Trump Administration Proposes Increases in Certain Immigration Filing Fees

Trump Administration Increases Immigration Filing Fees

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

While there is no doubt that President Trump generally supports policies that restrict immigrant rights, how the Trump administration achieves this objective can vary.  In some cases, the Trump administration acts directly, announcing a new policy that expressly restricts immigrant rights. In other cases, the Trump administration acts more indirectly, setting forth a new policy that makes it harder for immigrants to attain their immigrant rights.  As an example of an indirect limitation on immigrant rights, the Trump administration has proposed increases in certain immigration filing fees.

As announced on November 8 by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), “The Department of Homeland Security will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register to adjust the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Immigration Examinations Fee Account [IEFA] fee schedule.  Fees collected and deposited into the IEFA fund nearly 96% of USCIS’ budget. Unlike most government agencies, USCIS is fee-funded. Federal law requires USCIS to conduct biennial fee reviews and recommend necessary fee adjustments to ensure recovery of the full cost of administering the nation’s immigration laws, adjudicating applications and petitions, and providing the necessary infrastructure to support those activities. . . . The rule proposes adjusting USCIS IEFA fee schedules by a weighted average increase of 21% to ensure full cost recovery.  Current fees would leave the agency underfunded by approximately $1.3 billion per year. The proposed fee rule accounts for increased costs to adjudicate immigration benefit requests, detect and deter immigration fraud, and thoroughly vet applicants, petitioners, and beneficiaries”.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of USCIS, stated, “USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures, just like a business, and make adjustments based on that analysis.  This proposed adjustment in fees would ensure more applicants cover the true cost of their applications and minimizes subsidies from an already over-extended system. . . . Furthermore, the adjudication of immigration applications and petitions requires in-depth screening, incurring costs that must be covered by the agency, and this proposal accounts for our operational needs and better aligns our fee schedule with the costs of processing each request”.

There are several especially noteworthy specific fee increases under the Trump administration’s proposal.  First, the fee to apply to become a U.S. citizen would increase from $640 to $1,170 (an 83% price increase).  Second, asylum seekers would pay a $50 application fee. This $50 application fee would be the first such application fee for U.S. asylum seekers and make the United States one of only four countries in the world (the others are Iran, Fiji, and Australia) to charge for an asylum application.  Third, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients would pay an additional $275 every two years to renew their legal permits (in addition to the $495 currently required for a DACA renewal filing).

The above-described increase in certain immigration filing fees is to be set forth in a proposed rule to be published in the Federal Register on November 14 and will be subject to public comment and possible amendment before it is officially enacted in law.

Viewed as an indirect restriction on immigrant rights, the proposed increase in certain immigration filing fees was sharply criticized by immigration advocacy groups.  Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, stated, “This marks a dark chapter in America’s history as a place of refuge. . . . It also puts us in a club of only four countries who charge the most vulnerable asylum seekers to apply for protection, which may be prohibitively expensive for certain families who have spent their entire savings just to reach our border”.  Ur Jaddou, former chief counsel for USCIS, stated, “This administration repeatedly claims it is only going after irregular migration but this rule is very specifically about legal immigration. . . . This rule shows their true colors”.

In addition, at least some government officials opposed the proposed increase in certain immigration filing fees.  One USCIS official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, stated, “The cost to collect the fee will probably outweigh the fee itself and doesn’t come close to covering the cost of adjudicating an asylum application. . . . It’s another example of the Trump administration putting up punitive barriers to asylum”.  One asylum officer stated, “This is blood money. . . . Only a bully says, ‘I won’t protect you unless you pay up.’”.

In the fact of the continuing efforts of the Trump administration to restrict immigrant rights (such as from the proposed increase in certain immigration filing fees), it is critically important that immigrants hire qualified immigration law attorneys, such as the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, which has had years of success and experience in representing immigration clients, to protect their immigrant rights.  If you need assistance with any immigration issue, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for help and support.