Caribbean nationals are being encouraged to get their applications in early to avoid an increase in fees being proposed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) which could take effect this year.
Earlier this month the USCIS announced the proposed increases which allow for a 60-day period for the public to comment.Under the proposed rule, there will be a ‘range of filing fee amounts for green card applications – from $1,540 for a stand-alone green card application up to $2,820 for a green card application that includes supplemental work and travel authorisation’, according to data on the USCIS website.
It noted further that, “The proposed fee increases will impact employers sponsoring foreign talent for work visas and green cards, US citizen and permanent residents sponsoring foreign-born relatives, and those applying for humanitarian benefits.”
Michelle Fanger, a Jamaican immigration attorney based on Jacksonville, Florida says many immigrants who already are at the base of the economic ladder could be negatively impacted by the raft of increases. She is urging persons to file early.
“To ensure that you are ahead of the proposed new fee structure it is best to get all paperwork into the USCIS now and not wait,” she said.
She said that already there has been a slowdown in people filing petitions and the new fees will further add to this.
Courtney Smith (not is right name) who is seeking to become a legal permanent resident, expressed his dismay at the range of increases, and has vowed to begin the process of filing as soon as possible.
“If me wait too long I don’t know how I will come up with the money to pay,” he said.
Jamaican immigration attorney Caroline Stephenson said the changes will be particularly onerous for immigrants seeking an adjustment of their status.
She confirmed that persons looking to sponsor relatives to the US will now face additional fees to the petition fee of $810.Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals living in the United States who are out of status and seeking to become permanent residents (Green Card Holders) will see the fee to adjust their status move from $1760 to almost $3500. The petition fee for persons looking to file for relatives from Jamaica to the United States, will move from USD$35 to $810.
“This will present hardship to many especially in a time when there is a downturn in the economy and many people are experiencing financial hardships,” Stephenson said.
While she does not think that the increased fees will significantly impact the filing of immigration petitions, she believes the decision will be an economic one, with persons having to make a decision whether to file for family members separately or as a group.The website outlined, however, “Regarding common family-based green card applications, USCIS proposes an increase in the I-130 Immediate Relative Petition from $535 to $820 for paper filings, but only an increase to $710 if the petition is filed online.”
Irwin Clare, head of the Queens-based Caribbean Immigration Services said:
“The increased fees could have the unintended consequence of slowing migration to the United States so the right balance must be struck,” he said.
He joined in urging people filing petitions to get their paperwork in now before the new fees take effect.
USCIS explained that the new fees would allow USCIS ‘to more fully recover its operating costs, re-establish and maintain timely case processing, and prevent the accumulation of future case backlogs. USCIS receives approximately 96 per cent of its funding from filing fees, not from congressional appropriations.’
The USCIS noted that the proposed fee rule is the result of a comprehensive fee review which ‘determined that the agency’s current fees, which have remained unchanged since 2016, fall far short of recovering the full cost of agency operations’.
It noted that in ‘2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a dramatic reduction in receipts of new applications, resulting in a temporary drop in revenue by 40 per cent. The combination of depleted cash reserves, a temporary hiring freeze, and workforce attrition has reduced the agency’s capacity to timely adjudicate cases, particularly as incoming caseloads rebound to pre-pandemic levels’.