The new proposed USCIS fee schedule can be viewed, among other things, as a political document. A new and generally higher fee schedule was needed, but the announced new schedule goes well beyond the fiscal needs of the agency.
As background, the administration, without the support of both houses of Congress, cannot make sure that billionaires pay their fair share of taxes, or even that the IRS will be fully funded, but when it comes setting fees in the immigration field it is totally able to decide who should pay how much for handling which applications. The fees can be set by DHS alone, after a comment period.
It thus has an opportunity to soak the rich, a narrow one, and it has taken it; it has an opportunity to continue to charge illegal aliens nothing for seeking asylum status and has seized it.
One thing it has not done is to raise all the fees by the same percentage; one could argue that inflation has caused USCIS costs to rise by x percent generally and then adjust all fees upward by the same percentage; that would also make the fee adjustment task considerably easier, but it would leave out any opportunity to stack higher costs on unloved programs — and keep them at zero for beloved ones.
Instead, we now have a 200-page document in small type in the January 4 Federal Register that changes fees over a wide range, from plus 2,050 percent (in this case from a small base) for filing an H-1B petition (good move, USCIS!) to a reduction of 100 percent for the separate biometric services fee for fingerprinting and photography of $85, a fee that formerly applied to millions of applications.
I applaud the increase in just one of the H-1B fees, this one goes from $10 to $215, which is called a “pre-registration fee” for employers entering the H-1B lottery. I cannot tell at this reading whether this is refundable if the employer does not win the lottery. There are, appropriately, many other fees laid on by DHS and State in this program, which takes hundreds of thousands of jobs from U.S. skilled workers at all times. Making it more expensive to enter the lottery should, all else being equal, reduce the number of applications.
When dealing with dollar figures, rather than percentages, we find that the increases range as high as $29,900 for an application for a regional center designation in the EB-5 (immigrant-investor) program. These are the U.S.-based middleman agencies that have often been found to be cheating alien investors of millions, entities that richly deserve more scrutiny. The fee goes from $17,795 to a whopping $47,695.
The largest reduction in dollars came with the ending of the $85 biometric fees. While it is not the largest reduction in any individual fee, it probably creates the largest cumulative loss in fees. The largest dollar reduction in an individual fee relates to an amnesty-like program; the reduction is $400 and deals with an “Application of Suspension of Deportation or Special Rule of Removal (for a family adjudicated by DHS) (with biometric services for two people)”. The proposed fee drops from $740 to $340.
Of the nine largest increases percentage-wise, in addition to the H-1B fee rise, five dealt with various aspects of the immigrant-investor program, two with genealogy requests from hobbyists, and one with the H-1B-like L-1 program for the admission of executives from international corporations, all relatively powerless targets.
We counted a mind-boggling 145 different forms covered by the proposed fee increase document, suggesting a really complex system — perhaps it could be streamlined. Of these, there were these categories:
- Increases of more than 100 percent: 16
- Increases of less than 100 percent: 65
- Fees charged, but no change: 12
- No fees charged, no change: 34
- Decreases: 15
- Other: 3
In the “other” category there is a puzzling item “Certificate of Non-Existence”, which sounds like it came straight out of Kafka or Sartre.
For those really, really interested in this matter, my son Rodney North and I have arrayed the 145 items by the dollar size of the increases and decreases. That table, which takes up about six pages of space, can be found here.