The cost of applying for U.S. citizenship is dramatically increasing

August 7th, 2020 by
By Daniel Gonzalez Arizona Republic – USA Today: PHOENIX – It’s going to cost more to apply for U.S. citizenship. A lot more. Starting Oct. 2, legal immigrants eligible to apply for citizenship will pay $1,160 if they submit their application online, or $1,170 if submitting a paper application. Under the new fee, immigrants will pay at least $520 more to apply for citizenship. That is more than 80% higher than the current application fee of $640. It’s also the second biggest jump in the naturalization application fee in history, analysts say.  Most of the fee waivers that allowed lower income immigrants to apply for naturalization for free are also being eliminated. And for the first time, people fleeing persecution in their home countries will have to pay a $50 fee to apply for asylum if they are not in deportation proceedings. In the past, there has been no cost to apply for asylum. The new fees and elimination of many fee waivers are part of an overall adjustment of immigration benefit fees that will increase by 20% on average and generate an estimated $1 billion in revenue. The new fees were finalized Monday.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that processes immigration benefits, says the fee increases are needed to offset the higher cost of processing applications for immigration benefits, including the Trump administration’s attempt to crack down on fraud and increase the vetting of immigrants applying for benefits. “USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures and make adjustments based on that analysis,” Joseph Edlow, USCIS deputy director for policy, said in a statement to The Arizona Republic. “These overdue adjustments in fees are necessary to efficiently and fairly administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, secure the homeland and protect Americans.” The agency relies almost entirely on fees. It is facing a huge budget shortfall this year and has asked Congress for $1.2 billion to cover the gap.  Fees are reviewed every two years. Some fees will decrease under the new changes. The agency last adjusted fees in December 2016 under the Obama administration on average overall by a 21% increase. Supporters say the fee increases are long overdue, and will help make the agency financially solvent again without having to rely on tax dollars. However, analysts said the fee increase will result in fewer legal permanent residents, especially lower-income immigrants, applying for citizenship, limiting their political power because only U.S. citizens can vote.  In the past, Republican and Democratic administrations have kept the cost of applying for naturalization low to encourage immigrants to apply for citizenship, said Jessica Bolter, associate policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.  Only immigrants over 18 who have been legal permanent residents for at least five years, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen, can apply for citizenship. Until now, the lower citizenship application fee was “in recognition of the value of citizenship and the belief that those who qualify should be able to access citizenship,” Bolter said. “So this naturalization fee is increasing more than other (fees) because this administration is trying to make up for the fact that it was held artificially lower in the past.” The large increase in the naturalize fee comes as USCIS is trying to work through a large backlog of citizenship applications exacerbated by the new coronavirus pandemic, which forced USCIS to shut down in-person naturalization interviews and naturalization oath ceremonies for several months. “So it just adds another obstacle to naturalization for people who might be eligible,” she said. The 81% increase in the online naturalization application fee (83% increase for paper applications) is the second highest increase ever, Bolter said. The highest increase was in 1999, when under the Clinton administration the fee to apply for citizenship increase from $95 to $225, a 137% increase. Combined with the fee increase, the elimination of fee waivers will result in fewer immigrants applying for citizenship, especially lower-income immigrants, Bolter said. Under the Trump administration, USCIS is eliminating fee waivers for all immigrants, with the exception of a few categories, including victims of domestic violence, crime and human trafficking victims, Afghani and Iraqi nationals who assisted the U.S. government and minors applying for special immigrant visas who still are under supervision of a juvenile court or child welfare agency, Bolter said. USCIS is eliminating most fee waivers for immigrants applying for green cards and for work authorization, she said. “So this is also going to be really impactful,” Bolter said. “Not only are these fees increasing but the mitigation measures to ensure that” immigrants who are eligible but “simply didn’t have the resources to apply” are also being eliminated. There were about 9.1 million legal permanent residents in the United States in 2019 eligible to naturalize but hadn’t, according to Department of Homeland Security’s most recent data. Of those, the largest share, about 2.5 million, were from Mexico, followed by China, with about 490,000, and the Philippines, with 370,000, according to DHS data. About 810,000 legal permanent residents applied for citizenship in 2018, according to the most recent USCIS data. Of those, 761,901 became citizens. David Bier, immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that supports higher levels of immigration and foreign workers, believes the combination of the naturalization fee increase and elimination of fee waivers will result in more immigrants deciding not to become citizens. “I would expect you will see more people foregoing that opportunity” to become full Americans, Bier said. “Especially when you already know it’s not a quick process. It might take over a year or maybe even longer as a result of the” backlogs of immigrants waiting for their citizenship applications to be processed. He said the fee increases are part of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to restrict legal immigrants to the U.S. USICIS is raising the fees on many other categories of immigration benefits, including for H-1B high-skilled workers, H-2A seasonal agriculture workers and several other temporary worker categories. USCIS is raising fees to cover the increased cost of processing applications for many benefits after the Trump administration implemented many “onerous” new regulations that have made applying for certain benefits unnecessarily more difficult, Bier said. For example, the length of some immigration forms are “double or triple” than what they were under the Obama administration, and many new questions have been added, Bier said. “All of that requires significantly more staff time,” Bier said. “Now we are seeing that reflected in the fees that are going to be charged to sponsors and immigrants.” Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors less overall immigration, supports the fees increases, calling them “long overdue.” “We need to have fees that are high enough to keep USCIS fiscally stable, and we can’t run our immigration system on the cheap, because there are security considerations and too much fraud,” Vaughan said in an email. “Most people agree that US taxpayers should not have to subsidize the cost of adjudicating applications in the legal immigration system, especially when there are also other costs for welfare benefits that they end up subsidizing.” She also supports eliminating many of the fee waivers, which she said have been “a major fiscal drag on USCIS.” Fee waivers increased under the Obama administration, adding to their costs, she said In 2018, USCIS waived fees for 350,000 applicants. These waivers were valued at $368 million, averaging about $1,051 apiece, she said. “That’s a pretty big chunk of the $1.2 billion deficit that they are facing,” Vaughan said. “These waivers were expanded significantly after a policy change implemented in the Obama administration. Now Trump is rolling that back a little bit, so that legal immigrants don’t have to subsidize the applications of so many others.” She doesn’t believe the fee increases will lead to a decrease in immigrants applying for citizenship. In the short term, the increases may result in a spike in immigrants applying for citizenship before the fees go up in October, she said. “Despite the higher fees, immigrants will still want to become citizens because they love this country and because they want to sponsor family members. I don’t see that changing much,” Vaughan said. Feel free to contact our office at any time – we are here to help you through the process 818-550-1111

Federal judge blocks Trump immigration ‘public charge’ rule due to pandemic

July 31st, 2020 by
BY NATHANIEL WEIXEL – 07/29/20 07:12 PM EDT (THE HILL) The Trump administration’s controversial “public charge” rule linking immigrants’ legal status to their use of public benefits on Wednesday was blocked by a federal judge. Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a nationwide injunction stopping the administration from enforcing the requirements, citing the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic. The rule, from the Department of Homeland Security, would make it easier for immigration officials to deny entry or legal status to people likely to rely on government assistance. The matter is now likely to head to the Supreme Court, which has previously acted on it. In January, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to lift a similar nationwide injunction on the proposal while the case played out in federal appeals court. Then in April, the Supreme Court denied a request from New York and other states to block the rule during the pandemic, allowing it to take effect. In his opinion, Daniels wrote that since the ruling in April, the pandemic has gotten worse and “the irreparable harm and public interests that warrant an injunction have come into sharper focus.” “We no longer need to imagine the worst-case scenario; we are experiencing its dramatic effects in real time,” Daniels wrote. Under the rule, any immigrant who receives at least one designated public benefit — including Medicaid, food stamps, welfare or public housing vouchers — for more than 12 months within any three-year period will be considered a “public charge” and will be more likely to be denied a green card. The plaintiffs argued that the rule makes it more difficult for immigrants to seek COVID-19 testing and care. Despite a notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that medical treatment for COVID symptoms will not count toward a public charge analysis, Daniels said the rule is a deterrent for immigrants to seek medical help. “Any policy that deters residents from seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19 increases the risk of infection for such residents and the public. Adverse government action that targets immigrants, however, is particularly dangerous during a pandemic,” Daniels wrote.

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Supreme Court blocks Trump plan to end DACA program

June 18th, 2020 by
BY JOHN KRUZEL –  The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to block the Trump administration from ending an Obama-era program that shields nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation, upending a key feature of President Trump’s immigration agenda. In a 5-4 decision that largely fell along ideological lines, the justices said the administration failed to give an adequate justification for terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as required by federal law. “The dispute before the Court is not whether [Department of Homeland Security] may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a majority opinion that was joined by the court’s more liberal justices. The ruling keeps intact a program that is open to an estimated 1.3 million non-citizens who are eligible for DACA by virtue of having been brought to the U.S. as children and who have maintained residency and who meet the education or military service requirements and other criteria. Trump blasted the ruling as politically motivated and an affront to conservative values. “These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives. We need more Justices or we will lose our 2nd. Amendment & everything else. Vote Trump 2020!” Trump tweeted.

The court’s decision Thursday does not prevent the Trump administration from working to rescind the DACA program in the future, meaning the fate of the deportation reprieve could be decided by voters in the November general election.

The case traces back to 2012, when then-President Obama established DACA through executive action. Nearly 700,000 people are now enrolled in the program, which grants a renewable two-year deferral from deportation and makes applicants eligible for work permits, driver’s licenses and health insurance.

Trump, who campaigned on a promise to end Obama’s “illegal executive amnesties,” announced plans in 2017 to rescind the program. The move was met with swift legal challenges, and federal lower court judges in three cases ruled against the Trump administration. Appearing before the Supreme Court last fall, the Trump administration argued that its decision to rescind DACA is not reviewable by courts. A majority of justices rejected that argument Thursday, but several of the court’s reliably conservative members embraced the view in a dissenting opinion. In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the Obama-era program was “unlawful from its inception,” and that the court should not have second-guessed the Trump administration’s decision to rescind it. “The Court could have made clear that the solution respondents seek must come from the Legislative Branch. Instead, the majority has decided to prolong DHS’ initial overreach by providing a stopgap measure of its own,” Thomas wrote. “In doing so, it has given the green light for future political battles to be fought in this Court rather than where they rightfully belong — the political branches,” added Thomas, whose dissent was joined by fellow conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

The decision to preserve DACA marks the third time Roberts cast the deciding vote on a major Trump immigration policy, and is likely to further cement his image as the court’s new swing vote.

Roberts previously sided with the conservative justices to uphold the administration’s restrictions on inbound travel from several Muslim-majority countries. Last term he joined the liberal bloc to prevent the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, based on similar legal grounds as the DACA decision.

In both the census and DACA cases, the Supreme Court’s decision was guided by a federal statute called the Administrative Procedure Act, which concerns how much decision-making power resides with federal agencies. The narrow issue before the court in DACA was whether the Trump administration’s repeal was legally justified or if it was “arbitrary and capricious,” and thus illegal under the act.

In finding that the administration violated the act, Roberts was joined by liberal Justices Ruth Bader GinsburgStephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Justice Sonia Sotomayor also signed onto the majority opinion, but said she would have left open the possibility of the DACA rescission being challenged on equal protection grounds.

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USCIS Preparing to Resume Public Services on June 4

May 28th, 2020 by

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is preparing some domestic offices to reopen and resume non-emergency public services on or after June 4. On March 18, USCIS temporarily suspended routine in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices and application support centers (ASCs) to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). USCIS is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to protect our workforce and the public. For the latest information on the status of individual offices, check our office closures page
While certain offices are temporarily closed, USCIS continues to provide limited emergency in-person services. Please call the USCIS Contact Center for assistance with emergency services.
As services begin to reopen, offices will reduce the number of appointments and interviews to ensure social distancing, allow time for cleaning and reduce waiting room occupancy. Appointment notices will contain information on safety precautions that visitors to USCIS facilities must follow.
If you are feeling sick, please do not go to your appointment. Follow the instructions on your appointment notice to reschedule your appointment for when you are healthy. There is no penalty for rescheduling your appointment if you are sick.
Feel free to contact our office with any questions or concerns at (818)550-1111

US immigration agency says it might not make payroll without congressional help

May 19th, 2020 by

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is warning that it is being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and that it will soon exhaust its funding and might be unable to meet its payroll without significant help from Congress — as the number of applications from immigrants dries up.

“Given the unprecedented nature of the global pandemic, there is no historical data that can be used to project the scope and duration of COVID-19’s impact on USCIS’ revenue,” said the email to staff by Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow, a copy of which was obtained by Fox News. “USCIS will exhaust its funding this summer, and without congressional intervention, we risk not being able to make payroll and will have to take drastic actions to keep the agency afloat,” he said. USCIS offices closed in March as part of the effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, suspending in-person services at field offices and asylum offices. President Trump has also placed significant restrictions on green cards for those already in the country — which are usually handled by USCIS. Unlike other government agencies, USCIS is a fee-based agency, meaning it is primarily funded by the money coming from fees that immigrants pay to have their applications processed. But Edlow said that since the declaration of a national emergency, application and petition receipts “dropped to half their previous levels and with them, agency revenue that keeps our doors open.”Edlow said that, even with an already-planned hike in fees coming soon, USCIS is seeking $1.2 billion from Congress to address budget shortfalls for both fiscal year (FY) 2020 and the start of 2021. He said that such an ask would not add to the deficit, as it would add a 10 percent surcharge to application fees. “We will be working closely with Congress and urging them to take swift action so USCIS can continue to administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguard the homeland, and protect the American people,” he wrote. When asked for comment by Fox News, a USCIS spokesperson said: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USCIS has seen a dramatic decrease in revenue and is seeking a one-time emergency request for funding to ensure we can carry out our mission of administering our nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity, and protecting the American people. 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.” However, it is not clear if there is much appetite from Congress to provide such aid. A $3 trillion stimulus package passed by House Democrats on Friday — but which appears doomed in the Senate — does not include any relief for USCIS. A House Democratic aide said Congress is reviewing the USCIS bailout request. “The Administration has brought this request to Congress, and we are currently seeking more information about their proposal,”  the aide told Fox News.

USCIS Temporary Office Closure Extended until at least April 7

March 27th, 2020 by
On March 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services temporarily suspended in-person services at its field offices, asylum offices, and Application Support Centers (ASCs) to help slow the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). USCIS offices will reopen on April 7 unless the public closures are extended further. Employees in these offices are continuing to perform mission-essential services that do not require face-to-face contact with the public. Feel free to contact our office with any questions or concerns. We are here to help.