Thousands of people have answered the call to submit comments regarding proposed increases in US visa fees, and—predictably—many are voicing concerns.
On Jan. 4, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a proposed rule that would raise the filing fees required to process visa applications of various kinds, and especially employment-based applications. The deadline for public commentary was initially set for Mar. 6, but it has been extended for another week until Mar. 13.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that was due to a “technical issue” preventing comments from being posted for almost 24 hours around Feb. 14. However, other reports suggest that policymakers may be buying a little more time to garner positive responses after amassing a barrage of negative ones. A cursory glance of the more than 4,000 comments submitted reveals people are taking issue with the proposed hike for myriad reasons.
There are generic comments about how raising fees during an economic downturn would hurt people and companies—especially when the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 since 2009, and many immigrant applicants work in minimum wage jobs due to labor discrimination, language barriers, and immigration statuses.
One specific, recurring template in recent comments that has been shared among migration rights activists argues that raising the cost of attaining citizenship for lawful permanent residents (LPRs) is “simply unfair” for those who’ve spent years contributing to the American economy.
Other comments aired more personal grievances. For instance, a West Virginia-based farm owner who hires H2A workers said he’s already battling “many rising costs…[including for] fuel, fertilizer, packing materials, etc. Literally every aspect of farming has increased. We cannot continue to feed America with outrageous increases. 137% for H-2A Named Beneficiaries is an outrageous increase. I urge you to reconsider.”
A non-exhaustive list of USCIS’ proposed visa fee increases
$10 to $215: H-1B lottery registration fee, the burden of which typically falls on the employer
$460 to $1,385: L-1 intracompany transfer filing fee
$460 to $1,055: Filing fee for the O extraordinary ability visa often used by artists
$460 to $1,015: Filing fee for P visa for athletes/artists/entertainers will become “untenable for developing to mid-level artists,” according to Janet Rich, president of Manage This Media
$700 to $715: form I-140 immigration visa petition
$3,675 to $11,160: form I-526 & I-526E (Immigration Petition by Alien Entrepreneur/Regional Center Investor) fees
$1,225 to $2,820: I-485 Adjustment of Status (green card application) filed with the I-765 Employment Authorization Document and I-131 Advance Parole (travel authorization) filing fee
$535 to $820: Green card for a family member I-130 filing fee
$535 to $720: Fiancé I-129 application filing fee
$595 to $1,195: Petition to remove conditions from green card status I-751 filing fee
$410 to $650: Stand-alone Employment Authorization Document I-765 filing fee
$640 to $760: Application for naturalization N-400 for paper and online filings
Quotable: Devastating for artists
“The visa process is already incredibly cumbersome, difficult, and unreliable. In the last year, I’ve struggled to get visas approved for artists who have been performing for decades in the United States, and this fee increase will make me and my colleagues far less likely to engage international artists. My current orchestra engages at least 8 international artists a year, which helps us maintain our reputation both nationally and abroad…At the current fee of $460, one or two organizations can afford to sponsor an international artist to come to the US for the first time. At a rate of $1,655, individual organizations will not be able to take such a financial risk on a younger, lesser-known artist, which will have ripple effects on the current and emerging generations of high-level international artists.” —A commentator who has worked on artist visas (mostly O1-B) for nearly a decade for three major American orchestras.
Why does USCIS want to hike its fees?
Due to a lack of funding from the federal government, the agency’s budget depends on its receipt of filing fees from immigration applications. In fact, Around 97% of USCIS funding comes directly from application fees provided by immigrants applying for visas, green cards, and citizenship.
There have been no increases since 2016. And in the ensuing years, anti-immigrant sentiment under the Trump administration, followed by covid restrictions, saw applications—and therefore revenue—dropping. To make up for those hits, the agency thinks that a hike is in order.
USCIS funding from fees, by the digits
40%: Loss in income caused by the temporary drop in filings in 2020, because of the pandemic
$6.4 billion: Agency’s annual fee revenue under the new proposal, up from $4.5 billion
8,000: People the agency could hire to quicken the process of clearing the backlog of applications old and new. The agency will use increased revenues to increase staff, among other things like refreshing technology, covering increased contract costs, and spending more on its asylum and refugee programs.
$2,500: The cost of premium processing is not changing. What is changing, though, is the time for processing. It’s becoming lengthier, moving from 15 calendar days to 15 working days.
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