SHRM Asks USCIS to Find Efficiencies, Not Raise Fees

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 16, 2023
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​The federal agency in charge of administering the nation's immigration system should explore more efficient ways to improve services and save costs instead of raising filing fees so drastically, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) said.

SHRM submitted public comment on a recent U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposal to significantly increase filing fees for multiple employment-based immigration petitions and applications.  

USCIS heavily relies on user fees instead of congressional funding, and the agency's latest proposal would represent a weighted average increase in fees of 40 percent. The increased fees would allow USCIS to hire nearly 8,000 new employees to more quickly process new applications and address growing backlogs, as well as fund upgraded information technology resources, the agency said.

"SHRM is supportive of a fee schedule that enables USCIS to adjudicate requested benefits consistently, completed within a reasonable time frame, and in accordance with the law," said Emily Dickens, SHRM chief of staff and head of public affairs. "However, we are concerned with the proposed fee schedule's substantial increase in fees for several benefits, particularly for employment-based benefits. SHRM is concerned the proposed increases are not proportionate to the cost of processing these cases."

USCIS is proposing different fees for different visa classifications. The current base fee of $460 covers all temporary-worker visa petitions using Form I-129—used by employers to petition for guest workers under H-1B, H-2A, H-2B, L-1, O-1 and TN visa classifications. The new filing fees would be:

  • H-1B visas—$780.
  • TN visas—$1,015.
  • O-1 visas— $1,055.
  • H-2B visas—up to $1,080.
  • H-2A visas—up to $1,090.
  • L-1 visas—$1,385.

In addition to the filing fee increases, USCIS is also proposing a new $600 asylum program fee to be paid by all employers sponsoring temporary workers or workers for permanent residence visas. The fee would apply each time an employer used Form I-129 for an initial petition, change of status or extension of stay.

This additional fee is intended to help fund the administration of the nation's asylum program, which is giving some employers and employer groups pause.

"The proposed $600 asylum fee is, in the view of many businesses, a gross overreach of authority being exercised by the agency," said Jon Baselice, vice president of immigration policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "USCIS has never imposed a surcharge as significant as this upon a distinct population of stakeholders for the sole benefit of another group of stakeholders."

Alternatives to Higher Fees

Dickens pointed out that instead of the proposed fee increases overall, USCIS could instead look "into ways in which efficiencies, pilot programs and changes in the fee structure could be implemented to improve upon services rendered and save costs."

She outlined alternatives to the proposed fee increases. "SHRM believes that electronic filing for all visa categories and the introduction of automatic employment renewals on a continuous basis are quick solutions that are supported by the business community," she said. "USCIS's efforts to deploy e-filing and electronic adjudications are critical first steps to improving efficiency and customer service to address instances where petitioners experience significant delays in the processing of their forms."

Dickens recommended USCIS consider establishing a permanent "Known/Trusted Employer" program for employment-based visas that eliminates the need for repeated re-adjudication of common multiple petitions from the same company.

"This program would reduce backlogs and mitigate adjudication issues while allowing for sufficient screening to ensure safety and compliance with U.S. laws," she said.

SHRM has supported a Known or Trusted Employer program for immigration processing for years. USCIS ran a pilot program from 2016-2020.

Dickens also suggested modifying the fee structure at the agency. "USCIS has not applied the responsibility of financing the immigration system among all visa categories equitably," she said.

"The massive increases without proper cost justification have employment-based immigrant and nonimmigrant visas subsidizing other visa categories and the asylum system. Beyond the inequitable assumption of financial burden, applying a one-size-fits-all cost model to all businesses regardless of size will result in small and medium-size businesses having to forfeit utilizing global talent in their recruitment strategies."

She said USCIS could consider adopting a tiered approach based on organizational size or a volume discount for employers that file large amounts of applications.

Adverse Impacts

Baselice said the feedback received from members about the proposed fee increases "was overwhelmingly negative."

He explained that large employers that rely upon a mix of H-1B, L-1 and various employment-based green card workers said the additional costs for their firms would be in the millions of dollars, requiring them to reconsider their workforce planning. Smaller employers, as well as agricultural and seasonal employers of H-2A and H-2B workers may not be able to use the programs at all.

"Smaller firms across a host of industries conveyed that these fee increases will be incredibly harmful to their companies," he said. "Many of these firms predict that these increased fees will prevent their business from growing, and in the most extreme cases, would have prevented their company from entering the market."

Baselice agreed that USCIS should improve processing efficiency, including ensuring that adjudicators have received necessary training on agency policies to reduce unnecessary requests for evidence and denials; expanding the availability of online, electronic processing; and addressing premium processing.

USCIS also is seeking to extend the premium processing period from 15 calendar days to 15 business days.

"Businesses strongly oppose this programmatic change, as the reason companies choose to pay extra for premium processing is the significantly shorter time that the company will wait for the immigration benefit request to be adjudicated," Baselice said. "The premium processing option is relied upon by all sorts of companies who have specific workforce needs that must be met in a timely fashion. Whether it is an H-1B or an L-1 that is needed for a specific project, a group of H-2A workers that need to harvest an unexpected bumper crop, or forestry workers that are needed to prevent the risk of a large forest fire, these services are designed to help companies meet their critical workforce needs quickly. The Chamber implores USCIS to not abandon its calendar-day approach to premium processing."



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