USCIS announced this week that fees will be increasing on almost all application types on December 23, 2016.
If USCIS receives your application on or after Dec. 23, 2016, you must include the new fee or USCIS will reject your application. It can take weeks or even a month to get your application back if this happens.
While some fees will only increase $15 or $20, others will be jumping hundreds of dollars. The fees paid for a straightforward Green Card case will increase from $1490 to $1,760, and fees for waivers (I-601, I-212, I-601A and others) will increase from $585 to $930. I met with a couple in my office this week who will be applying for the husband’s Green Card. He needs two waivers for his case. If he files his case before December 23rd, the filing fees will be $2,660. If he files just one day later, he will have to pay $3,620 in fees. That is quite a difference, considering that his case will not be processed any more quickly, and he will likely not get any better customer service from USCIS.
Unlike most parts of the U.S. government, USCIS does not receive any funding from taxes paid to the government. They must run their agency without any help from taxpayers, and so they charge significant fees to people submitting applications.
While this setup does have a few small benefits (like the fact that the agency keeps running during a government shutdown, as it’s not dependent on the federal government for funding), it also has significant downsides. People who apply for benefits from USCIS have to pay amazingly high fees, which increase from time to time. The last time USCIS increased their fees was in 2010. Each time USCIS increases their fees, immigration benefits like Green Cards and citizenship become more difficult to afford.
Maybe the increase in fees would be easier to swallow if it meant that we were getting better service from USCIS—faster processing time, better customer service and more accuracy would be welcome improvements. In my experience, though, fee increases are totally unrelated to improvements in service by USCIS. At a time when our clients are facing significant and unnecessary delays in applications for naturalization (citizenship) and DACA, it is especially difficult to justify paying more money for slow processing and mediocre customer service.
For many of our clients, these fee increases are a great burden. I truly hope that the new fees sent to USCIS will be put to good use, modernizing the technology used to process applications, decreasing processing times for applications, and improving training for USCIS staff. If they don’t though, and the funds just disappear into some black hole in the agency, I will not be surprised.