The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to adjust certain immigration and naturalization benefit request fees. The new fees would allow USCIS to more fully recover its operating costs, reestablish and maintain timely case processing, and prevent the accumulation of future case backlogs. USCIS receives approximately 96 percent of its funding from filing fees, not from congressional appropriations.
The proposed fee rule is the result of a comprehensive fee review at USCIS. That review determined that the agency’s current fees, which have remained unchanged since 2016, fall far short of recovering the full cost of agency operations. USCIS generally publishes a fee rule biennially, and proposes these changes to account for the expansion of humanitarian programs, federally mandated pay raises, additional staffing requirements, and other essential investments.
In 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a dramatic reduction in receipts of new applications, resulting in a temporary drop in revenue by 40 percent. The combination of depleted cash reserves, a temporary hiring freeze, and workforce attrition has reduced the agency’s capacity to timely adjudicate cases, particularly as incoming caseloads rebound to pre-pandemic levels. Increasing demand for low- or no-fee humanitarian programs has added to these fiscal challenges.
The proposed rule would increase some fees, including a modest increase in the fee for certain naturalization applications, while preserving existing fee waiver eligibility for low-income and vulnerable populations and adding new fee exemptions for certain humanitarian programs. If finalized, the proposed rule would decrease or minimally increase fees for more than one million low-income filers each year.
“In addition to improving customer service operations and managing the incoming workload, USCIS must continue to fulfill our growing humanitarian mission, upholding fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve,” said USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou. “This proposed rule allows USCIS to more fully recover operating costs for the first time in six years and will support the Administration’s effort to rebuild the legal immigration system.”
New measures include a proposal to incorporate biometrics costs into the main benefit fee and remove the separate biometric services fee; establish separate fees for each nonimmigrant classification covered by Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Workers; change the premium processing timeframe from 15 calendar days to 15 business days; and institute lower fees for certain forms filed online. The proposed rule would not change fee waiver eligibility requirements. The projected revenues resulting from the proposed rule would allow USCIS to increase the number of adjudicators processing applications, implement technology improvements, and increase support provided to individuals seeking information and assistance from USCIS.
The 60-day public comment period starts following publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register. Fees will not change until the final rule goes into effect, after the public has had the opportunity to comment and USCIS finalizes the fee schedule in response to such comments. USCIS will host a public engagement session on the proposed fee rule on January 11, 2023.