Just in Time for Thanksgiving: The USCIS Implements Large Filing Fee Increases

On November 14th, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (“USCIS”) is expected to formally publish proposed fee changes in the Federal Register for the applications and petitions it processes. Public comments about the regulatory fee changes should be due 30 days later, but it appears that the new fee levels may start to be applied on December 2nd (even while the USCIS accepts and reviews comments). If implemented, the changes would impact a wide swath of immigration filings made by both employers and their employees.

Admittedly, immigration filing fee increases are nothing new. The immigration and employer communities have come to expect them every few years. As the USCIS said in its announcement on November 8th, “Unlike most government agencies, USCIS is fee-funded. Federal law requires USCIS to conduct biennial fee reviews and recommend necessary fee adjustments to ensure recovery of the full cost of administering the nation’s immigration laws, adjudicating applications and petitions, and providing the necessary infrastructure to support those activities.” According to the agency’s internal calculations, the current fees would leave the USCIS underfunded by approximately $1.3 billion per year. There are certainly valid arguments to be made about the efficiency and effectiveness of USCIS budget management practices and current spending priorities, during a period where overall immigration filings have fallen. However, whether through filing fee increases or emergency funding from Congress, one way or another, that additional $1.3 billion will be paid by employers and the public.

The new filing fee schedule proposed by the USCIS would increase fees by a weighted average of about 21%. That’s similar to an increase by the agency in 2016/2017. The net result today of all of these recent fee increases is a much more expensive foreign worker visa sponsorship prospect for employers, employees, and their families. For instance, the standard citizenship application fee (Form N-400) will increase from $640 to $1070. The default greencard application fee (Form I-485) will decrease from $1140 to $1120, but applicants would have to pay separately for associated temporary work and travel documents, which are currently included in that fee. The additional greencard application fees could total-up to $1075 per applicant (employee and each family member).

For employers sponsoring temporary professional workers in the US, the base I-129 petition filing fee would go up a nominal $10 for H-1Bs, but nearly double for L-1s. The new fee schedule proposes to implement multiple different I-129 filing fee levels, depending on the specific classification of temporary worker sought. An in-country employer sponsorship for a TN worker under NAFTA, for example, would similarly nearly double, as would an in-country extension for an E-1 or E-2 professional. And, as the post-Thanksgiving Day meal dessert for employers, the USCIS earlier this year announced it was raising the increasingly popular I-907 Premium Processing filing fee (used by employers needing expedited decisions on their sponsorship petitions). That additional fee, when faster processing is requested, would add-on another $1440 for employers of temporary professional foreign workers. The I-907 fee increase will also take effect on December 2nd. Some filings will see a decrease next month. The fee for employer greencard sponsorship (Form I-140) will go down by $155. However, that’s small comfort for companies facing tightening budgets, fearful of a possible recession in the near- to mid-term.

Now, despite the uncertain economic climate, labor markets are still uncommonly tight in many sectors and industries. Hence, no matter the costs and the “novel” new legal hurdles thrown up by the USCIS each day, employers will likely have to simply absorb these filing fee increases next month. Here’s hoping that a USCIS agency flush with new cash inflows will find some way to reduce the ballooning application and petition backlogs, and the resulting delays in approving even the most straight-forward of employer sponsorship requests under the law.

About the Author:

Christian S. Allen is Of Counsel in Dickinson Wright’s Troy office, where he assists clients in all aspects of business immigration law and compliance, as well as related family-based immigration and citizenship support. Chris can be reached at 248-433-7299 or callen@dickinsonwright.com  and you can visit his bio here.