Let's Support Higher State Department Fees for Nonimmigrant Visas

By David North on January 25, 2010

One of the perpetual problems with America's efforts to manage international migration is that they are always underfunded.

The State Department has proposed about $84 million a year in increases in its nonimmigrant (i.e., temporary) visa fees, and has asked for public comment. (See the second page in this notice from the Federal Register).

We should all rally around and encourage the State Department in this venture.

Careful screening of nonimmigrant visa applications is, or should be, an expensive process. Failures in the screening process produce visa-abusers, who comprise something like 35 to 40 percent of the illegal alien population. More money should be available for these adjudications.

There are a couple of other strong reasons for supporting the new fee structure.

First, international migration to the U.S., permanent or temporary, usually creates a substantial benefit for the individual migrant, but the costs of the migration impacts are borne by all of us. So, increasing the costs to the individual nonimmigrant is a move in the right direction.

Secondly, the government is over-extended financially and it needs more income; if a bit of it can come from this source, so much the better.

Incidentally, this is one of those rare revenue enhancements that will not cost a dime to any American voter – a boon to our politicians. The Department of State's rationale is that a study they funded showed that the current level of fees did not support State's costs in this area.

The proposed increases are largely for the paperwork in a category that bears the awkward, seemingly double-negative, label of: "non-petition based nonimmigrant visas." These are for visas sought by aliens who do not need a U.S.-based petition to support the application – in other words, largely visitors for business and pleasure and persons seeking border-crossing cards for use at the land borders.

State expects about 5.5 million applicants in the first category and about 900,000 in the second; people arriving on visa waivers (tourists and business people from certain countries) apparently are not covered in the fee adjustment. These fees will rise from $131 to $140.

Interestingly, Congress earlier decreed that border-crossing cards for children under the age of 15 should be charged at a much lower rate; State proposes to boost that charge from $13 to $14. The announcement in the December 14 Federal Register does not explain why Congress took that action.

Three categories of petition-based visas come in for special treatment. State says that it costs more to handle these applications; all involve coming to the U.S. to work. The H, .L, O, P, Q, and R category fees go from $131 to $150. They expect about half a million applications in these categories.

The apparently more troublesome E and K categories go from $131 to $390. Both categories also allow work in the U.S., with E being for investors (and the subject of an earlier blog), and K being for fiancés. It is predicted that there will be about 80,000 of these applications in the next 12 months.

I am all for charging much, much more for those with investor (E) visas – they are, in effect, buying their way into America – and for those with H (temporary worker) and L (international corporate transferee), many of whom are distorting and depressing the American labor market. But at this juncture let's encourage State to go ahead and implement what it has already set out to do.

The formal title of the proposed regulations is: Department of State/22 CFR Part 22/[Public Notice 6851] RIN: 1400-AC57 Schedule of Fees for Consular Services, Department of State and Overseas Embassies and Consulates.

If you write, send the letter to Department of State, Office of the Executive Director, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Suite H1001, 2401 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20520.

The email address is [email protected] and there should be a mention of RIN(1400-AC57) in the subject line.

The deadline for comments is February 12.