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Federal Judge Blocks Big Hikes in Immigration Fees

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A federal judge has temporarily blocked the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) increase in fees (more than 80% in some cases)—targeting individuals wanting to immigrate to and become citizens of the United States—that were slated to go into effect on October 2, 2020. 

Increase immigration Fees

The most significant issue that immigration advocates have with the USCIS rule was the proposed fee hikes, which were both sweeping and steep. Below are some of the notable price changes, along with the percentage of the increase:
  • H-1B visa: $460 to $555 (+21%)
  • L visa: $460 to $805 (+75%)
  • O visa:$460 to $705, (+53%)
  • P visa: $460 to $695 (+51%)
The cost of other visa petitions such as those for TN, E, Q, and R visas are also all marked for increases greater than 50%. Additionally, the USCIS rule seeks to impose higher fees on companies with more than 50 employees with at least 50% of their workforce in H-1B and L-1 status by imposing an additional $4,000 fee on extensions. 
Immigrants wanting to become U.S. citizens are not immune from the price hike; naturalization application fees would soar from $640 to $1,160—more than an 80% increase. For context, the last time the fees for naturalization rose was in 2016, when they went up roughly 20%. 

Setting the U.S. Apart

Seemingly no immigrant group would be exempted by the cost increases—the rule would also establish a $50 charge to individuals applying for asylum, as well as begin charging asylum applicants $490 for employment authorization documents (EAD), something which is currently free. This change would make the United States one of the few countries in the world to charge a fee to asylum seekers. 

Longer Premium Processing Times and Higher Costs 

The other notable proposed change halted by the block is longer premium processing times, as the USCIS would have begun processing cases within 15 business days, as opposed to the current 15 calendar days it currently operates within. Additionally, under the stopped USCIS rule, premium processing fees on services other than H-2B and R-1 petitions are slated to jump from $1,440 to $2,500. 

The Reason for the Increase in Fees 

USCIS is a fee-funded agency, meaning that a considerable portion of their funding comes from the fees it collects. The reasons for the shortfall of funding are up for debate; some cite the substantial decline in immigration applications that has resulted due to the coronavirus pandemic, while others argue that the White House’s restrictive immigration policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric, along with increased costs from their more intense application processing is responsible for the shrinking revenue. 
The lack of funding has forced USCIS to make spending cuts and the department has made repeated threats of furloughing a large portion of their workforce.  

The Ruling 

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White (who was appointed by President George W. Bush) issued a preliminary injunction of the USCIS rule, finding numerous flaws in it—most notably, USCIS’s failure to sufficiently justify the large fee increases and failure to take into account the impact the significant fee increases will have. Judge Jeffrey White also questions the legitimacy of the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, as he was potentially unlawfully appointed and never confirmed by the Senate. 

What this Ruling Means

It’s always difficult to predict exactly how these rulings will translate. In the short-term, Judge White’s ruling halts the massive fee increases which is a win for immigrants in, and hoping to come to, the U.S. On the negative side, it could mean that USCIS follows through on furloughing employees, which will lead to longer processing times. 
In the long-term, the court striking down the legitimacy of the acting secretary of the DHS could have a ripple effect on the policies enacted under his watch, which could theoretically undo a considerable amount of the Trump administration’s immigration policies put in place over the past year and half. 

GoffWilson Immigration Law

If you’re interested in learning what this ruling means for you, your family, or your business, contact GoffWilson today. For example, fee hikes are likely coming and those who act early might save a sizable amount of money. Solely practicing immigration law, GoffWilson is uniquely qualified to help you navigate the complex and ever-changing U.S. immigration laws and develop an immigration strategy tailored to your personal needs. At GoffWilson, immigration isn’t just what we do, it’s our passion.
Filed under:Immigration Law