US Immigration Agency To Hike Fees As Revenue Runs Dry

By Suzanne Monyak
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Law360 (May 17, 2020, 3:01 PM EDT) -- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services expects to run out of funding this summer, and will raise application fees in response while making a "one-time emergency request" of $1.2 billion from Congress.

USCIS, which is funded by fees paid by immigrants and their employers, has seen a "dramatic decrease in revenue" as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the agency confirmed to Law360 on Sunday.

The agency said it would reimburse Congress for emergency funding by adding a 10% surcharge to applications for immigration benefits, which can already cost upwards of $1,000.

"Importantly, this funding proposal protects American taxpayers by not adding to the deficit and requiring USCIS to pay the money back to the U.S. Treasury," an agency spokesperson said Sunday.

USCIS said that it alerted Congress of its financial woes on Friday and predicted a 61% drop in visa petitions and applications in fiscal year 2020.

Without help from Congress, USCIS "will have to take drastic actions to keep the agency afloat," the agency said.

The drop in revenue comes as the immigration agency, which processes green card, citizenship and other visa requests, limits service during the coronavirus pandemic. USCIS has suspended fast-tracked processing for temporary work visas and green cards, paused all in-person interviews and ceased naturalization ceremonies.

House Democrats have called for naturalization ceremonies to be held remotely in their latest proposed virus relief legislation that passed Friday night, although the bill faces slim odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The Trump administration has brought immigration to a screeching halt in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting high level of U.S. unemployment, including by blocking some would-be immigrants, including relatives of U.S. permanent residents and parents of American citizens, from moving to the U.S. on new green cards.

The administration is also mulling additional restrictions on new nonimmigrant visas, such as the H-1B visa for foreign workers in specialty occupations.

The agency had already moved last fall to raise application fees across the board late last year by 83%, although that proposal has yet to be finalized. Under the November proposal, the fee for citizenship applications, for instance, would jump from $640 to $1,170. The proposal also floated a first-ever fee on U.S. asylum applications.

--Editing by Jill Coffey.

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