Immigration and business organizations continue to voice their concerns about U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ proposal to dramatically increase filing fees and urge the agency to improve services.

In January, USCIS published a proposed rule that would raise fees for immigration benefit requests by a weighted average of 40% — and more for most high-skilled classifications. In a joint comment submitted last month, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council objected to the proposal, saying that USCIS is failing to fulfill its promises to stakeholders.

“We believe any request to increase fees for these unkept promises must incorporate significant process improvements and specific implementation timelines that fundamentally change the existing paradigm of slow and inefficient service,” the comment said.

USCIS has said the increased fees would allow the agency “to more fully recover its operating costs, reestablish and maintain timely case processing, and prevent the accumulation of future case backlogs.”

The agency accepted comments on the proposed rule through March 13. After a delay in publishing some of the comments, the government’s rulemaking portal now shows USCIS received nearly 8,000 comments on the proposed fee hikes. Comments are available for public review here.

Groups such as Business Roundtable, Compete America, the Worldwide Employee Relocation Council (WERC) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) say they understand that, as a fee-funded agency, USCIS must adjust fees from time to time. They say, however, USCIS must be clearer about how it is calculating the proposed fees and should take additional steps to improve services.

Among the more common critiques:

  • The steep fee increases would harm U.S. businesses and hurt the country’s ability to be economically competitive.
  • USCIS has not been transparent is saying how it reached the proposed fee levels, including the $600 Asylum Program Fee surcharge on key employment-based filings, or in establishing measurable goals to show how it would improve services with the increased funding.
  • The agency could do more to reduce inefficiencies such as excessive requests for evidence and improve online filing options before raising fees by such substantial amounts.
  • USCIS should not adopt the proposal to lengthen premium-processing timelines by using business days rather than calendar days.

Opposition to the current proposal has come from throughout the business and immigration communities, including from humanitarian groups and organizations representing farmers, artists, athletes and colleges and universities.

The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration said that even small fee increases can have a significant negative impact on international students, refugees, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients or anyone seeking to apply for naturalization. The organization called on Congress to “provide sufficient funding through annual appropriations, rather than saddling applicants seeking unrelated benefits with the responsibility of funding USCIS.”

BAL Analysis: USCIS has not raised fees since 2016, and employers and business and immigration organizations understand that fees do have to be adjusted. Stakeholders have continued to express concern, however, about the amount of the proposed increases, the $600 Asylum Program Fee surcharge and the extent to which agency services will improve with additional funding. The proposal would impose significant costs on employers; however, USCIS may make adjustments to its proposal. USCIS has also noted that fee amounts could change if Congress appropriates additional funding to the agency.

USCIS is now in the process of reviewing the nearly 8,000 comments it received, and the agency must consider them in formulating a final rule. Higher fees will not take effect for at least several months, and the possibility of litigation means implementation could be delayed even further. BAL will provide updates as information becomes available. In the meantime, companies can use BAL’s fee calculator to estimate the impact of the proposed fees on their programs.

This alert has been provided by the BAL U.S. Practice Group. For additional information, please contact berryapplemanleiden@balprod.tegandev.com.

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