U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Friday announced that it would change its process when deciding which applicants are eligible for a discount on immigration fees.
Under the new proposal, which will go into effect on Dec. 2, officials will no longer consider an applicant’s use of public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps as evidence that they are financially needy enough to qualify for a fee waiver for an immigrant visa.
Applicants may still request a fee waiver if their annual household income is at or falls below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or they are able to prove financial hardship.
Broader effort to restrict legal immigration
The latest move is part of a broader effort by the government to penalize immigrant visa applicants for using public benefits, either now or in the future. Earlier this month, courts temporarily blocked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing its controversial public charge rule, which would make it much harder to immigrate legally to the United States.
“Once again, the administration is using every lever it can find to restrict legal immigration,” said Doug Rand, former Obama adviser and Boundless co-founder. “The obvious purpose of this latest action is to make it more difficult for low-income green card holders to apply for U.S. citizenship, in a way that sidesteps the typical rule-making process where DHS has been so often frustrated in court.”
USCIS said changing the fee waiver requirements is necessary because eligibility varies too widely between states, and will ensure officials across the country are judging applicants using the same process.
“USCIS relies on fees to cover the costs of adjudicating applications and petitions, implementing operational efforts, and ensuring the nation’s lawful immigration system is properly administered,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli in a statement. “USCIS waives hundreds of millions of dollars in fees annually.”
Immigrant visas can cost thousands
Applications for an immigrant visa can end up costing thousands of dollars. For instance, applying for a marriage-based green card in 2019 can cost up to $1,960, while naturalization (citizenship) currently costs $725. Under the new requirements, a family of 4 in California would only be eligible for a fee waiver if their total household income was below $37,650 and they didn’t use public benefits (compared to that same 4-person household in 2018, who would be eligible if their household income was $50,200 and they did use public benefits).
What does this mean for you?
If you’re applying for a fee waiver for your immigration application, you must submit the updated Form 912 (Request for Fee Waiver) if filing on or after Dec. 2, when the new requirements go into effect. After this date, USCIS will reject:
- Older versions of Form 912 released on Mar. 3, 2018 or earlier
- A fee waiver request submitted with a letter or
- Documents that show you have used or are using public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps
USCIS will judge any applications postmarked before Dec. 2 based on the previous policy. The proposed changes will be open for public comment until Nov. 27.