In a significant move, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently announced the publication of a final rule adjusting immigration and naturalization benefit request fees. This marks the first update since 2016 and is a result of a comprehensive fee review mandated by law. The primary goal is to enable USCIS to recover a more significant share of its operating costs and facilitate a more expeditious processing of new applications. The fee review identified a considerable shortfall in the current fee schedule, necessitating adjustments to cover essential operational expenses.
Key Points in the Final Rule:
- Cost Recovery Reduction: The final rule lowers the agency’s required annual cost recovery by almost $730 million, partly attributed to improved efficiency measures.
- Expanded Fee Exemptions: The fee exemptions have been expanded for various categories, including Special Immigrant Juveniles, victims of human trafficking, crime, and domestic violence, U.S. military service members and Afghan allies, and families pursuing international adoption.
- Special Fee Discounts: Nonprofit organizations and small business employers will benefit from special fee discounts, fostering a more inclusive approach.
- Reduced Fees for Certain Applications: Half-price Employment Authorization Document applications are introduced for adjustment of status applicants, along with reduced fees for applicants under the age of 14 in specific situations.
- Naturalization Fee Reduction: Eligibility for a 50% fee reduction for naturalization applications is extended to individuals demonstrating household income between 150% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
- Online Filing Discount: A standard $50 discount is implemented for online filers, encouraging a shift towards digital processes.
- Fee Increase Limitations: The final rule places a cap on fee increases, ensuring that newly established fees for individual filers do not exceed a 26% rise, equivalent to the increase in the Consumer Price Index since 2016.
With the anticipated increase in revenues, USCIS plans to implement innovative solutions to enhance the customer experience and address backlog growth. While the fee adjustments aim to offset overall costs, sustained congressional funding remains crucial to effectively manage the increased caseload associated with recent border crossers.
The new fees outlined in the final rule are set to take effect on April 1, 2024. During a grace period from April 1, 2024, through June 3, 2024, both previous and new editions of certain forms will be accepted, filed with the correct fee.
However, filers should note that there will be no grace period for specific new forms, including Form I-129, Form I-129 CW, Form I-140, Form I-600A (and supplements 1, 2, and 3), and Form I-600. These forms must be submitted with the updated fee calculation. USCIS will use the postmark date for determining the correct form version and fees but will utilize the receipt date for regulatory or statutory filing deadlines. The changes aim to streamline processes, enhance transparency, and ensure that USCIS can better serve its diverse constituency.
If you have any questions or need further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us for a consultation. Our dedicated team is here to support you through the petition process and address any concerns you may have.