USCIS, Rather Belatedly, Proposes to Raise Immigration Fees

By David North on June 10, 2010

Some months after the State Department proposed to raise its migration-related fees, and many months after the Obama administration urged Congress to let the Labor Department do so, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed to raise its fees.

The fee increase will bring in another $200 million, all to be used internally by USCIS; that's an increase of roughly 10 percent. It is spelled out in a lengthy Federal Register notice that will appear on June 11. It was announced at a USCIS stakeholder's meeting by Director Alejandro Mayorkas at USCIS headquarters yesterday.

Our position is that most of the financial benefits of immigration go to the individuals and corporations involved, while most of the costs are borne by the taxpayers. With that in mind, the Center published a Backgrounder of mine last month entitled "Charging More for Immigration; Closing Financial Loopholes in the U.S. Migration Process."

That paper offers a menu of revenue-raising measures totaling $5 billion a year; the USCIS proposed fee increase, covered in our publication, would go only 4 percent of the way towards meeting the $5 billion goal. One of our proposals, also raised in an earlier blog, is to charge everyone applying for the diversity lottery $20, which we estimate would raise $250 million, to be split between USCIS and the State Department.

These fees, all to be paid by non-citizens, non-voters, and non-permanent residents of the U.S., would be in addition to the fees currently charged to the 50,000 some winners of the lottery. The extra $20 fee would not expand the number of immigrants coming to the country; that number would remain at 50,000. (The Casino Visas, as I call them, should be eliminated, of course, but until they are the government might as well make some money out of them.)

The government has not yet made that Casino Visa fee proposal, but it would raise $50 million more than USCIS has just suggested.

Returning to the USCIS announcement, most of the fees to be raised are additions to long-standing fees for various benefits handled by the agency. An exception was made for naturalization fees which, for policy reasons, the agency decided to leave at their current levels.

At the stakeholders meeting Jack Martin, representing FAIR, asked Mayorkas if the non-increase in naturalization fees means that the other fees were increased more than they would have been otherwise. Mayorkas said yes, that was the case, and said the other fees were raised by about $8 each, to subsidize the naturalization fees.

While USCIS is largely funded by fees, which have been dropping recently, most migration-management activities, such as those of the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, ICE, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, are funded by taxes, not fees.

Commendably, two brand-new fees were created, and though neither will raise much money, both are imposed on comfortable entities that benefit from USCIS activities. Previously the state government-created regional centers that focus investments made by EB-5 immigrants were fee-free; now they will need to pay a (presumably one-time) fee of $6,350.

In the past the physicians licensed to conduct (once-over-lightly) medical examinations for USCIS got their designations at no charge; in the future there will be a $165 fee. While these doctors do not make much from individual alien clients, the designation does bring them in contact with future patients; for many of them the doctor will be the only physician they know in America. In immigration-speak, they are civil surgeons.

Interestingly, and commendably, there is a fee increase for an obscure part of the immigrant investor (EB-5) program. As we pointed out in another earlier blog, not only has the investment requirement been dropped from $1 million for a family (all of whom get green cards) to half a million, one can draw out that investment after two to three years. This is done through the "I-829 Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions."

The proposed fee schedule will now charge $3,750, not $2,850, to give the investor a piece of paper that allows everyone to keep their green cards while the half-million-dollar investment is withdrawn. The investor's family gets to stay in the U.S. forever, all in exchange for a fleeting half million-dollar investment.

I urge the reader to drop a line to the Department of Homeland Security immediately to let the department know that their proposal to raise these fees, generally, is a good idea, if an overly modest one. One should send the letter – wait for it – to the Chief, Regulatory Products Division, USCIS, DHS, 111 Mass. Ave., NW, 3rd floor, Washington, D.C., 20529. Refer to DHS docket No. USCIS-2009-0033. The way to respond electronically will be in the Federal Register on Friday.