Have you ever heard of pork-barrel legislation? Do you know where the money that taxpayers pay goes? If you take the time to read through an entire bill that is signed into law that has anything to do with spending or budgets, you will be amazed to find line items that have absolutely nothing to do with the intended purpose of the law itself, like finding funding authorized for a pipeline project in a law titled “Assisting Public School Infrastructures” or a line item for subsidies for electricity companies in a law that is supposed to address Ocean-cleaning and the environment (These are made up examples).
The flip side of this question is: What do you never see in a law passed by Congress? The answer: Funding for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). If you have known anyone who has sponsored a family member for a green card or an employer who has sponsored a foreign worker, they had to submit their immigration petitions to USCIS.
USCIS processes millions of petitions per year, from the simplest renewal of an employment authorization document to the complex EB-5 investor green card cases, and because it receives no federal funding, it charges for every petition, with different forms being assigned different values (with no clear reasoning for the wide range in costs), which are all passed on to the applicants.
The Biden administration recently announced its intentions to raise USCIS’s fees to unprecedented high levels, which I believe will further discourage people and companies from applying because they simply cannot be afforded anymore. In a political climate that is already extraordinarily anti-immigrant, combined with already high denial rates on cases and a no-forgiveness stance on errors committed in the immigration process, the rise in fees is yet another piece of the administration’s attempt to curb immigration to the U.S.
The Biden administration has justified these inordinately high fee hikes as the solution to the backlogs and slow processing times for cases due to a lack of manpower. It has also pledged to hire thousands more workers to make USCIS more efficient. However true it might be that USCIS is slow, the reality is that fees only trend in one direction, UP, and that means that the new fee levels will never drop back down, even once the supposed backlog is addressed and USCIS is functioning optimally, and quite honestly, some individuals and companies will just not be able to afford these fees.
Take, for example, the fees for H-1B visa cases. These visas are used by US employers to hire foreign nationals with university degrees, many of whom study in the U.S., and help keep our best educational institutions afloat. To be able to sponsor someone, companies must first enter the H-1B lottery. Until a few years ago, this process was FREE, and then USCIS implemented an online system to sort through the entries (blindly), charging $10 an entry. Last year there were 308,613 registrations (for only 85,0000 spots, but that is a whole other article/issue). Clearly, the minimal fee encouraged prospective employers to apply, but now the new proposed fee is $215. Yes, you read that correctly – a 2050% increase.
The fee hikes will have the effect of curbing sponsorship, and this will lead to a further reverse brain-drain of the best and brightest foreign minds who want to contribute to this country and help our businesses grow. The hikes also now apply different fees to case types that use the same form, which has never happened before. The L-1 visa for intracompany transfer, which uses the I-129 form, will now have a fee of $1,385 instead of $460, whereas the same form used for an H-1B case would now cost $780. That means that for a company’s first L-1 visa sponsorship, the fees are now $5,135, with no guarantee of approval. For these cases, the premium processing fee is optional, but if you don’t pay it, your case could take almost one year to process, eating into the proposed employment time/visa duration. The fees for premium processing went from $1,140 to $1,225 and then to $2,500 in recent years, a sign that this trend of penalizing the end user/consumer (applicant or petitioner in immigration terms) was just beginning.
In the end, US citizens, green card holders, and U.S. businesses are the ones who will be affected negatively by these fee hikes. Now entering the comment period before potentially being instituted, it is up to all of us, practitioners, business owners, citizens, and residents, to let the government know that these fee hikes are NOT ok and not to let them happen, or all of us will be negatively affected in the short and long term.
Sample of some of the key fee hikes:
|H-1B E-registration fee||$10||$215 (2050%)|
|Petition (application) for a H-1B visa||$460||$780 (70%)|
|Petition for a L visa (intra-company transfer)||$460||$1,385 (201%)|
|Petition by an EB-5 investor (investment-linked green card)||$3,675||$11,160 (204%)|
|Petition by EB-5 investor to remove conditions on permanent resident status (with biometric services)||$3,835||$9,525 (148%)|
|Application for Employment Authorization (online) – Online||$410||$555 (35%)|
|Application for Employment Authorization (paper filing)||$410||$650 (59%)|
|Application to adjust to green card status (with biometric services)||$1,225||$1,540 (26%)|
|Application for citizenship (online or paper filing)||$640||$760 (19%)|