The US is set to become one of the only countries in the world to impose application fees on asylum-seekers.
Beginning October 2, 2020, intending immigrants to the US will face higher application fees. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is also introducing, for the first time, an application fee for asylum-seekers.
Notably, the cost of online naturalization applications will jump from $640 to $1,160, an 80% increase.
The fee, according to USCIS, encompasses the full cost to process the application and a “proportional share of overhead costs.”
Asylum-seekers will have to pay a $50 application fee. Only three other countries in the world — Australia, Fiji, and Iran — have fees for asylum applications.
USCIS final rule
In a statement, USCIS said the final rule aims to ensure the agency “recovers its costs of services.” The final rule adjusts fees by “a weighted average increase of 20% to help recover its operational costs.”
The final rule also aims to encourage online filing by offering a $10 reduction in fees for electronic applications.
“The rule accounts for increased costs to adjudicate immigration benefit requests, detect and deter immigration fraud, and thoroughly vet applicants, petitioners, and beneficiaries,” the statement explained.
As well, “the rule also supports payroll, technology, and operations to accomplish the USCIS mission.”
The agency had previously proposed a $275 renewal fee for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients. The proposed fee has since been removed.
DACA protects individuals who were illegally brought to the US as children from deportation.
However, the Trump administration announced last week that it will not accept new applications for the DACA program. It has limited renewal periods from two years to one while the Obama-era program is under review.
Additionally, USCIS lowered its proposed genealogy fees. The agency previously sought to increase fees for obtaining historical records of deceased immigrants who came to the US between the 1800s and the 1950s.
Explaining the inflated costs
Despite being a federal agency, the USCIS gets the majority of its funding through service fees. “Fees collected and deposited into the Immigration Examinations Fee Account fund nearly 97% of USCIS’ budget,” the agency stated in its announcement of the final rule on Friday.
USCIS lost some $4.1 million per business day before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, according to CNN. But when the crisis worsened in the US, the agency closed its offices and paused services. Furloughs are said to be on the horizon.
The agency recently submitted a request for $1.2 billion in emergency funds from the US Congress.
A USCIS spokesperson, however, told CNN that the new fees are not related to the agency’s current economic woes. Rather, USCIS reviews and adjusts its fees every two years to account for changes in operating costs.
The last update to the USCIS fee structure in December 2016 was a weighted average increase of 21%.
When announcing the final rule on Friday, USCIS explained that federal law requires the agency to conduct a comprehensive biennial fee review.
The most recent review has shown that “that current fees do not recover the cost of providing adjudication and naturalization services,” the USCIS statement underlined.
Current fees would leave the agency underfunded by approximately $1 billion per year, USCIS stressed.
The statement quotes Joseph Edlow, USCIS deputy director for policy, as saying, “USCIS is required to examine incoming and outgoing expenditures and make adjustments based on that [biennial] analysis.”
He added, “These overdue adjustments in fees are necessary to efficiently and fairly administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, secure the homeland and protect Americans.”
The USCIS final rule is set to go into effect on October 2, 2020. Any application, petition, or request postmarked on or after this date must include payment of the new fees.