USCIS Filing Fees on the Rise, Again

As we approach the holidays, most items are on discount. Not so when it comes to immigration fees, unfortunately. USCIS has been busy this past month announcing a series of increases.

DHS proposed on November 14th to increase filing fees for USCIS by a weighted average of 21 percent, while adding other fees and lengthening adjudication processes. 84 Fed. Register 62280, 11/14/19.
DHS proposes to adjust USCIS fees by a weighted average increase of 21 percent, add new fees, and make other changes, including form changes and the introduction of several new forms. Comments are due 12/16/19. (84 FR 62280, 11/14/19). The proposed rule generally forces USCIS customers (meaning U.S. businesses and U.S. family members) to often pay more, without any commitment to better service. Some of the proposals actually lengthen processing times.

Many fee waivers are stricken by the rule, virtually pricing persons out of various processes. I often find people are dissuaded from filing applications, including naturalization and H-1B applications, just because of the exorbitant costs, and this is without regard to attorney fees.

The rule also proposes to shift $200 million in received fees to enhance ICE’s work. Given the restrictive climate, this strikes me as a big piece of the agency’s intention. This Administration cannot get enough enforcement, and as was seen with the southern border, is willing to appropriate money from other sources to pay for it.

In my experience, these fee increases are rolled out every few years. I can’t remember a correlation between higher fees and better service, except perhaps with the initial implementation of premium processing, years ago. This is an agency which is still struggling to move from paper to on-line applications. Both CBP and Department of State are ahead of USCIS on this score.

Bottom line: expect filing fees to increase by 21% sometime in 2020, unless the agency is stalled by litigation. The time to comment is now, up until December 16, 2019.

Sooner…..the price for premium processing is going up to $1440, for applications postmarked on December 2, 2019. For years, this 15 day adjudication service was $1000. Many attorneys feel the agency purposes administers things so that petitioners have little choice but to file with the extra fee. H-1Bs with regular processing now take more than half a year. I-140 petitions can take a year. The processing times have gotten ridiculous, and the agency largely seems unconcerned.

We also may have an H-1B pre-lottery this year, if the agency can roll out its proposed program far enough in advance of the April 1st filing date. USCIS says that it will charge applicants $10 for the opportunity to participate in the lottery. If selected, prospective employers can then submit a full H-1B application.

The agency says it is testing its system, and is not yet sure whether they’ll be able to implement for the upcoming fiscal year. I give it a 50/50 shot. It would be a good thing for employers, if they give employers enough time to prepare the actual application if selected. USCIS sometimes overlooks the on-the-ground concerns of employers. The upside though is companies not selected will not have to pay for H-1B preparation that is for naught, due to losing out in the lottery.