Bringing your spouse to the US could get more expensive, as also the second step which involves his/her change in status to that of a permanent resident (aka green card holder). Fees for acquiring US citizenship have also been hiked. Employing migrant workers – be they H-1B visa holders or those on a L visa (Intra company transfer) will also be more expensive. Worst hit, are those opting for the investment-linked green card – aka the EB5 visa.
The fee schedule will be published in the Federal Registry on January 31 (which will be late night India time) and will come into effect from April 1.
Fee change relating to spouse/
To illustrate: Fees for form I-130, used for family reunification, including on marriage to enable the spouse to immigrate will go up 26% to $ 675 (a tad lower at $ 625 for online filing). A US citizen or green card holder files this form to establish a relationship with an eligible relative who wishes to come to the US permanently and get a green card. Later, if such a relative seeks to adjust status (that is apply for a green card), the fees stand increased from $ 1,225 to $1,440 – a hike of 18%.
In this context, Cyrus D Mehta, a New York based immigration attorney, told TOI, “It is unfair to raise fees, if USCIS does not process cases faster. It should not be taking the USCIS an average of 14 months to process an I-130 petition filed by a US citizen on behalf of a parent, spouse, or minor child overseas. This is only the first step as consular processing can add on several more months to the timeline.” Mehta and other immigration experts are stating that it remains to be seen whether increase in fees will expedite the processing of applications.
If you intend to bring your fiancé to the US, the fees for Form I-129F stands increased from $ 535 to $ 675 an increase of 26%. Interestingly, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which houses USCIS, in a publicly available advance copy of the fee revisions states, “However, DHS does not believe that the I-129F fee increase will encourage out-of-country marriages, since, if the couple marries abroad, instead of paying $675 to file the I-129F for their fiancé to immigrate, the petitioner would need to file Form I-130 for their spouse to immigrate. This final rule increases the fee for online I-130 filings to $625 and paper filings to $675; therefore, out-of-country marriage would not result in significant cost savings.”
Becoming an American citizen will also become more costly, in most instances including for a request for hearing on a naturalization decision. However, an online application for naturalisation with biometric services sees a slight decline from $ 725 to $ 710. The fee schedule offers concessions to those with lower income and distinguishes between fees for online and paper filing, with the former a shade less costly.
Fee change relating to investment-linked green card:
The biggest increases are for EB-5 investors – the investment-linked green card program, The investors will now pay $11,160 for their initial I-526 petitions -a hike of 204%, and $9,535 for their I-829 application to remove conditions on permanent resident status, which is a hike of 154%
Under the EB-5 program once the initial application is processed, and the consulate interview or adjustment of status (if the investor is in US) is complied with, a conditional green card with a validity of two years is available. Later, an application has to be filed to ‘remove the conditions’ and get a permanent green card. Fees at all stages have been hiked.
Kripa Upadhyay, an immigration attorney points out, “This increase does not correlate to increased processing times and services. Specific to the EB-5 context, some of the basic services continue to be a challenge.”
Immigration experts point out that prospective investors should not wait to file the initial application or eligible applicants should proceed to apply for removal of conditions before the hikes come into effect from April 1.
Fee changes relating to employment:
The a E-registration fee of $10 for an H-1B cap visa stands hiked to $ 215, per registration (a hike of over 2000%), however, this higher rate will not be in effect for this year’s H-1B registration period, which runs from March 6-22.
USCIS plans to charge the higher fees for H-1B applications, as filings typically commence in April. The fee for an H-1B petition will increase from $460 to $780, while the fee for an L-1 petition (Intra company transfer) will increase from $460 to $1,385. Certain small companies and non profits will be subject to lower fees.
The final rule also includes an additional $600 Asylum Program Fee that will be charged for each Form I-129 (initial visa application for sponsored employer) and Form I-140 (application for employment based green card). Nonprofit petitioners will be exempt from the new fee while small employers will be subject to a reduced fee of $300.
Mehta states, “Because Congress is not funding the USCIS, the USCIS has to charge more fees to employers to fund asylum processing. This seems to be unfair. There will surely be lawsuits in federal court trying to block these uneven fee increases.”
Statement from the USCIS:
The final rule, relating to the fee hikes, lowers the agency’s required annual cost recovery by nearly $730 million, in part by considering the budget effects of improved efficiency measures. With the new revenues the rule will generate, USCIS will start using innovative solutions to improve customer experience and stem backlog growth.
Although the fee increases announced today will allow USCIS to better offset overall costs, congressional funding continues to be necessary to sustainably and fully address the increased volume of caseloads associated with recent border crossers, including by hiring additional USCIS personnel to help right-size a system that was not built to manage the numbers of cases USCIS receives.
“For the first time in over seven years, USCIS is updating our fees to better meet the needs of our agency, enabling us to provide more timely decisions to those we serve,” said USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou. “Despite years of inadequate funding, the USCIS workforce has made great strides in customer service, backlog reduction, implementing new processes and programs, and upholding fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.”
USCIS received over 5,400 unique public comments in response to its January 2023 notice of proposed rulemaking. USCIS took into consideration comments and feedback received during the proposed rulemaking process.
Voices from experts on the overall hikes:
“As the 2024 presidential election brings immigration issues, particularly at the southern border, into sharp focus, the Biden administration’s significant hike in immigration fees this spring demands closer scrutiny. Contrary to what some may perceive, this increase, far exceeding the one proposed under the Trump administration, primarily impacts immigrants who are already part of our communities and workforce, as well as businesses facing labour shortages. The irony in the timing of this policy’s implementation on April 1st is not lost on me. While it may coincide with April Fool’s Day, the implications of this fee hike are no laughing matter. It is a serious decision that affects those on the legal path to immigration and companies relying on international talent,” said Xiao Wang, CEO at Boundless Immigration.
Wang added: “” I hope the additional funds generated by this increase will be used effectively by USCIS. The agency should pair this with a commitment to not only make the immigration process smoother but also faster and less complex. This is essential to respect the value of those seeking to build their lives here legally. Ultimately, the goal should be to streamline the immigration system, reducing complexities and wait times, while also acknowledging the significant, tangible value of immigration in the US.”
Farshad Owji, President of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) stated, “It has been clear for some time that the USCIS fee-funded model is no longer sustainable. For years, Congress has failed to provide the resources needed to address both the increasing humanitarian workload and the efforts to reduce backlogs. Under the current user-funded model, the agency is left with no sustainable options, leading to placing larger burdens on businesses, which will hamper them as they compete for top talent. While AILA applauds USCIS for their commitment to providing humanitarian relief at little cost to those applicants, these fee increases are significant and create a huge burden on stakeholders. USCIS must use the additional revenue to reduce processing times by streamlining adjudications and leveraging technology. We also urge the agency to utilize fee waivers as generously as possible, ensuring that those with fewer resources have the same meaningful chance at obtaining immigration benefits.”