Citizenship fee hike

A naturalization ceremony, held Dec. 19, 2018 in Los Angeles, California, welcomed more than 6,000 immigrants from over 100 countries who took the citizenship oath and pledged allegiance to the American flag. Indian American Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, condemned the fee hike, noting it would likely deter people from applying for citizenship because of the increased cost. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has proposed a massive hike in fees for naturalization applications, from the current $640 t0 $1170, an 83 percent rise.

The new rule would also increase the fee for renewals under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals from $495 to $765. The DACA program has been terminated by the Trump administration, but court injunctions allow those who already have DACA protection to apply for renewals.

The new rule would also mandate a $50 fee for asylum applications; no fee waivers for lack of income will be considered.

Application fees for the L-1 visa will also rise from $460 to $815, an increase of 77 percent.

The proposed increase was entered into the Federal Register Nov. 14 and underwent a 30-day public comment period. At press time Dec. 12, the proposed rule had received more than 3,300 comments, most in opposition to the fee hike.

The public comment period ended Dec. 16. 

Indian American Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, excoriated the proposed fee hike. “It doesn’t say, ‘Give me those who can pay exorbitant fees,’ on the Statue of Liberty,” she tweeted Nov. 27.

At a press conference Nov. 25 in Seattle, Washington, Jayapal condemned the fee hike, noting it would likely deter people from applying for citizenship because of the increased cost.

In a press statement announcing the proposed new fees, USCIS noted that — unlike other federal agencies — it is fee funded, and “immigration examination fees” as they are known, account for 96 percent of the agency’s budget.

“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,” said Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of USCIS, in a press statement. He noted that current fees leave the agency underfunded by $1.3 billion.

“This proposal accounts for our operational needs and better aligns our fee schedule with the costs of processing each request.”

Cuccinelli was asked by immigrant advocates to extend the public comment period to 60 days; he declined to do so.

Immigration advocacy organizations have pushed back against the proposed fee hike and have encouraged prospective citizens to apply now before the new fees take effect.

“With this change, USCIS has made clear its intent to reserve U.S. citizenship for only the wealthiest immigrants,” noted the organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

John C. Yang, president and executive director of Advancing Justice | AAJC, said: “At a time where 40 percent of Americans cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, it’s not a stretch to see how this announced fee increase adds a greater financial burden to applicants and puts citizenship even further out of reach.”

“We will work alongside partner immigrants’ rights advocates to ensure citizenship remains accessible and affordable to all,” he said.

AAJC and other immigrant advocacy organizations are conducting free citizenship workshops across the country to help immigrants apply for citizenship.

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