Two federal judges have blocked the increase of immigration filing fees scheduled for October. If you have any questions about immigration forms or filing fees, or if you are dealing with any immigration-related legal issue, take your concerns to a Las Vegas immigration attorney.
Why were the filing fees scheduled to go up in October? U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that processes visa, green card, asylum, and naturalization applications, reported a sharp drop in revenues earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To meet the shortfall, the agency proposed to increase the filing fees that must accompany most USCIS forms and applications. That proposal was temporarily blocked on September 29th by Judge Jeffrey White of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
Judge White’s decision in the case (Immigrant Legal Resources Center v. Wolf) grants a motion for a temporary injunction, which means that the federal government cannot move forward and impose the proposed higher filing fees until the courts make a final decision on the case.
Why Did Judge White Block the Fee Increase?
USCIS announced proposed fee hikes in August that were scheduled for October, but Judge White’s injunction blocking the increases was issued just days before the fee hikes were to take effect. Judge White said higher fees will put low-income immigrants at a serious disadvantage.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency that relies predominantly on filing fees to fund its operating budget, says the fee hikes are now desperately needed to keep an “overextended system” in operation.
However, Judge White wrote that if the higher filing fees are allowed to take effect, “it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, will block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose those populations to further danger.”
What Fee Increases Have Been Proposed?
Under the USCIS proposal, the filing fee for a citizenship application (Form N-600) would increase from $725 to $1,170, and the cost of applying for a green card (Form I-485) would increase from $1,760 to $2,830.
The proposal includes a first-time-ever $50 fee for those who are fleeing from dangerous conditions or persecution in their home countries and seeking asylum in the United States. The proposal would even ban many who can’t afford to pay higher fees from requesting fee waivers.
The proposal would also increase the premium processing timeline, now fifteen days, to almost three weeks, and it would require employers with a high percentage of H-1B and L-1 employees to pay additional fees for border security when they file petitions to sponsor employees.
How Did USCIS Respond to the Injunction?
USCIS issued a statement in response to Judge White’s injunction. The statement says that while the injunction is in place, USCIS will continue to accept immigration forms with the current fee amounts and use the regulations currently in place to adjudicate applications and petitions.
The statement also said, “This unfortunate decision leaves USCIS underfunded by millions of dollars each business day the fee rule is enjoined.” USCIS is mostly fee-funded, and the agency says, “current fees do not recover the cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services.”
When Was a Second Injunction Issued?
However, on October 9th, Judge Randolph D. Moss of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a second injunction that temporarily prevents the filing fee increases from going into effect.
Both Judge White and Judge Moss determined that acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf acted without proper authority in July when he approved the proposal for the filing fee increases.
Wolf has been nominated to serve as the Homeland Security secretary, but the Senate has not yet voted on his nomination. Judge White and Judge Moss both held that because Wolf has not been confirmed by the Senate, he does not have the authority to approve or enact fee increases.
What Are the Current Immigration Filing Fees?
In addition to blocking the proposed higher filing fees for visas, naturalized citizenship, green cards, and asylum applications, the two federal court injunctions also temporarily halt these other proposed USCIS filing fee increases:
- Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization): from $410 to $550
- Form I-751 (Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence): from $595 to $760
- Form I-526 (Immigrant Petition by Alien Investor): from $3,675 to $4,010
- Form I-131 (Application for Travel Document): from $135 to $145
- Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative): from $535 to $560 (or $550 if filing online)
How Important is Immigration to the U.S. Economy?
Immigrant workers have accounted for about half of the U.S. labor force’s expansion in the 21st century, and economists are warning that any government measure which slows immigration, such as a fee increase, could have profound and long-lasting negative economic implications.
“Immigration … has been a key part of work force growth in the United States,” Robert S. Kaplan, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, told the New York Times. Immigrants have “helped us to grow faster,” says Kaplan.
U.S. immigration law has always been complicated. Immigration policies always generate controversy. But new court rulings, injunctions, and executive orders have been issued at a swift pace over the last several years. COVID-19 has caused even more immigration difficulties.
Where Can You Turn for Legal Help?
If you are confused by the chaos, you certainly are not alone. If you are an employer who is trying to bring international workers to the United States, a Nevada immigration attorney can explain how the many recent changes will affect you – and may be able to help.
If you are an international investor who is seeking to reside and invest in the United States, good investment opportunities are still abundant in every part of the country, and you’ll find that the services and insights that a good immigration lawyer can offer you are invaluable.
And if you are a U.S. citizen who is trying to bring a loved one to the United States, or if you are facing any other immigration-related legal matter, the right Las Vegas immigration lawyer can provide the advice, insights, and legal services that you will need in these trying times.
Especially now, immigrants who are coming to the United States, international investors, non-immigrant visa holders, families, and U.S.-based employers who hire immigrants should not hesitate to seek the advice and services of a knowledgeable Las Vegas immigration attorney.