Boundless Report Sheds Light On Planned USCIS Fee Hike

The U.S. government says it needs an extra $1.3 billion — but where will the money really go?

Dec 20, 2019

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is planning to sharply increase the fees it charges for its services, which are used by virtually every immigrant or temporary visitor to the United States. On average, the filing fees for immigration and visa applications will increase by 21% — but the price increase isn’t increasing uniformly, and for many immigrants the cost of coming to America could jump by well over $1,000.

The government says the fee increases are urgently needed to plug a projected $1.3 billion budget shortfall — but does that claim hold up to scrutiny? In a new report,, Boundless put the fee hikes under the microscope.

Among the key questions answered in the report:

1. How does this compare to past fee increases?

USCIS evaluates its fee structure every 2 years, but doesn’t always increase the cost of filing immigration forms. Still, the new fee hike represents the second time in 3 years that fees have increased by more than 20%, and along with smaller increases in previous years, that’s dramatically increased the cost of coming to America.

Since the 1980s, Boundless found, the cost of filing Form N-400 to apply for U.S. citizenship has ballooned at almost 14 times the rate of inflation, increasing from just $35 in 1985 to $1,170 under the new fee schedule. (You can read more about past USCIS fee increases here.)

2. Where will the money come from?

Increases to existing USCIS fees will account for $400 million in new revenues, the report shows. The government will also raise $100 million by imposing new fees on asylum seekers and on DACA recipients seeking to renew their status, and another $300 million by eliminating means-tested fee waivers for low-income applicants.

Finally, the government will increase its revenues by a whopping $640 million by charging immigrants, including green card applicants, for travel and work permits that are currently issued without charge.

3. Where will the money go?

While USCIS says it’s facing a $1.3 billion shortfall under its current fee structure, officials haven’t released much information about how the new revenues will be spent; in fact, the allocation of 57% of the new revenues has gone completely unexplained, the report finds. We do know that 27% of the increase will go to staffing costs, while $112 million, or about 10% of the total, will be transferred directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — an unprecedented and controversial move.

We also know that the new funds won’t bring fewer delays for visa applicants, at least in the short term. USCIS says it estimates that it will take “several years before USCIS backlogs decrease measurably.”

4. Who will the fee hikes affect?

The short answer is that the fee increase will affect virtually everyone who files immigration paperwork with USCIS. Still, some applicants will pay more than others. Among the biggest losers under the new fee structure are:

  • Green card applicants, who will see fees climb by nearly $1,000
  • Citizenship applicants, who will see the fee for a naturalization application almost double
  • Asylum seekers, who will be charged an unprecedented $50 fee to request humanitarian assistance
  • Businesses, who will face increased fees for skilled H-1B workers as well as for H-2A and H-2B guest-workers
  • Family history enthusiasts, who will now have to pay almost 6 times more for genealogical records
  • Family members of crime victims, who will pay $1,285 more to file Form I-929 in order to request a temporary U visa — nearly 6.6 times more than the current cost

Want to learn more about the fee hikes, or find out how the fee increase could impact your immigration application? Check out the full report for a detailed analysis, and follow the Boundless blog for all the latest updates.

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