The federal agency in charge of administering our nation’s immigration system is proposing a sweeping set of fee hikes that would affect a wide range of immigration applications.
Right now, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says it needs the money. Only a small fraction of USCIS funding comes from Congress, whereas 96% of it comes from filing fees — which it hasn’t raised since 2016.
The proposal to do so now isn’t going down well with everyone.
USCIS revenue dropped by 40% early in the pandemic, when the number of applications fell. So did staffing, at a time when the agency was already behind on processing existing applications, according to Cornell Law’s Stephen Yale-Loehr.
“USCIS needs to increase fees to dig itself out of its backlog,” he said.
But the proposal to steady its finances could be a burden for businesses, he added. Shev Dalal-Dheini, the director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, points to a new $600 fee on employers looking to hire foreign workers.
That money would go toward an unrelated cost: processing the claims of people seeking asylum.
“This, unfortunately, could have the negative impact of deterring companies from investing in the United States,” Dalal-Dheini said. “It could deter foreign workers whom we consider maybe the best and the brightest from coming in, bringing their skills and their knowledge to the United States.”
The new fees could price smaller businesses and nonprofits out of the nation’s immigration system, she said.
The plan to charge employers for the costs of the asylum program raises questions about the agency’s fee-based funding, said Ron Hira, an associate professor at Howard University.
“Just from a good governance standpoint, if you’re going to charge user fees, they should reflect the true costs of adjudicating those specific applications rather than doing lots of cross-subsidization,” he said.
In a statement, USCIS said that “Congress could reduce the burden on our fee-paying customers by fully funding our humanitarian mission,” as it does for other agencies.
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