Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 04041662 (posted Apr. 16, 2004)"
Questions and Answers - Internal Only
USCIS FEE ADJUSTMENTS
Why does USCIS charge fees for immigration and naturalization benefits?
USCIS is authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 286m, to collect fees that ensure recovery of the full costs of providing adjudication and naturalization services, including the costs of providing similar services without charge to asylum applicants and other immigrants. Without collecting fee revenue, USCIS would not have funding for immigration benefit processing.
Why is the fee increasing?
USCIS reviewed the costs associated with providing immigration services while ensuring the security and integrity of the immigration system. The main costs being recovered are:
- costs of additional security enhancements performed after 9/11;
- administrative support costs (like forms management, human resources and
- costs to support new activities such as establishing a refugee corps to improve the quality of refugee adjudications, and establishing the new Office of Citizenship as required by the Homeland Security Act of 2002; and,
- cost-of-living (inflation- consistent with Administration's projections) increases.
How much are the fees increasing?
USCIS is increasing fees by approximately $55 per immigration benefit application and $20 for biometric (previously referred to as "fingerprinting") services. The average application fee was $170. The average fee will now be $225. The biometric fee was $50. The biometric fee will now be $70.
Why increase the fees given the large application backlog?
Funding to process immigration and naturalization applications comes primarily from the fees paid by applicants and petitioners. Because USCIS relies on these fees, it has the responsibility to ensure that it covers the full costs of application processing so that the backlogs do not grow further. Without these new fees, USCIS expected an increase in the backlogs.
What improvements has USCIS made to application processing and customer service?
USCIS is charged with fundamentally transforming the delivery of citizenship and immigration services. Over the coming year, USCIS will prioritize customer service and improved application processing times, in addition to security. The agency has already begun implementing significant information technology and process improvements including electronic filing for certain immigration applications.
Will the USCIS continue to raise fees? What is being done to improve efficiencies in the process?
USCIS continues to seek ways to improve productivity while decreasing costs. USCIS is firmly committed to seeking new ways of doing business and reengineering processes in order to contain costs and pass on the savings to its customers. Currently, USCIS is increasing the options, such as e-filing, available to customers for filing applications, which will reduce the burden associated with these applications. E-filing will also decrease the time and effort required to complete and process applications. In FY 2003 USCIS provided e-filing for both the I-765 and I-90, two of the most frequently used forms. By FY 2005, USCIS seeks to provide for at least 90% of the annual immigration services and application workload.
How does the fee increase interact with the President's backlog initiative?
In FY 2002, the President launched a multi-year initiative to eliminate the application backlog and ensure six-month processing standard for all immigration applications. The FY 2005 Budget provides an additional $60 million in discretionary funds to support this effort. USCIS plans to achieve the President's goal by FY 2006. If the fee increases were not adopted the application backlog would increase because of a lack of resources to process applications.
What is the status of CIS' plans to eliminate the backlog? Shouldn't we have a plan prior to increasing the fees?
CIS is actively working on a plan to eliminate the backlog by FY 2006. CIS is focused on bringing a new way of business to its customers - to do this we must reengineer our current, old processes and look to new innovative steps that ensure confidence in the immigration process while protecting national security. For example, one such step under consideration is to revise the validity period for Employment Authorization Documents. We anticipate finalizing our backlog reduction plan in late Spring of this year. It will serve as the roadmap for achieving the President's vision.
How does the President's Temporary Worker Program Initiative affect the fees?
On January 7, 2004, the President proposed a new temporary worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing US employers when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs. Enactment of the President's proposal will result in an increased workload to USCIS, though it is expected that costs associated with the workload would be covered in a fee like all other application processing.
How much additional revenue will the new fees bring into the USCIS?
USCIS anticipates collecting about $400 million in additional revenue in FY 2005.
When are the new fees effective?
A proposed rule announcing the fee adjustments appeared in the Federal Register on Tuesday, February 3, 2004. The proposed rule provided for a 30-day public comment period. The final rule was published on April 15, 2004. The new fee structure will become effective on April 30, 2004; 15 days after publication.
What factors did USCIS consider when determining the immigration benefit application fees?
In addition to its statutory authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act, USCIS must conform to the requirements of the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 (CFO Act), which includes a review of fees on a biennial basis. USCIS also looks to the concepts and standards recommended by the Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board.
Will USCIS conduct another fee review?
USCIS is required by law to review fees every two years to ensure that it is recovering the full cost of processing petitions/applications. USCIS will begin a new fee review in FY 2004 - to be completed in FY 2005. USCIS will continue to build upon the Activity-Based Costing model established by the Immigration and Naturalization Service's FY 1997 review, as well as the lessons learned since to improve and refine methodologies.
What if an applicant/petitioner cannot afford the fee?
USCIS has in the past and continues to have the ability to waive fees on a case-by-case basis. Any applicant or petitioner who has an "inability to pay" the fees may request a fee waiver. In determining "inability to pay," USCIS officers will consider all factors, circumstances, and evidence supplied by the applicant including age, disability, household income, and qualification within the past 180 days for a Federal means-tested benefit.
What was the nature of public comments from the proposed rule?
USCIS received a total of 278 comments pertaining to the adjustment of the immigration benefit application fee schedule. Comments were received from a broad spectrum of individuals and organizations, including 1 caucus of members of Congress, 16 refugee and immigrant service organizations, 15 public policy and advocacy groups, 8 educational institutions, 8 attorney organizations, 2 public corporations, 37 past and present adopting parents, 2 municipalities, and 189 other concerned individuals.
The majority of comments (181) related to people opposing the increase in the fees given the current level of services provided by the USCIS. USCIS responded by stating that it has made progress in many areas of customer service such as eliminating the lines at a number of its offices (including New York and Miami), introducing on-line options for certain application filing and case status updates, and establishing a bilingual, toll-free customer help-line. Nonetheless, the USCIS is committed to taking further steps to fundamentally transforming the administration of citizenship and immigration services. Over the coming year, the USCIS will prioritize customer service and improve application processing times, in addition to security. The agency has already begun implementing significant information technology and process improvements including electronic filing for certain immigration benefit applications. In FY 2002, the President launched a multi-year initiative to eliminate the application backlog and ensure a six-month processing time standard for all immigration benefit applications. The FY 2005 Budget provides an additional $60 million in appropriated funds to support this effort for a total of $160 million in funds available for the backlog efforts. The USCIS plans to achieve the President's goal by FY 2006. Also, USCIS does have the ability to waive fees on a case-by-case basis. Any applicants or petitioners who have an "inability to pay" the fees may request a fee waiver.