Immigration Filing Fees About to Get Steeper

By Roy Maurer May 12, 2016
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The filing fees for immigration and naturalization applications and petitions are scheduled to increase by an overall average of 21 percent, most likely later this summer, according to a recent proposal from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

After a review of costs, USCIS found that current fees “do not recover the full costs of the services” it provides and that adjusting the fees “is necessary to fully recover costs for USCIS services and to maintain adequate service.”

The agency stated that it will face an average annual shortfall of $560 million between costs and fee account revenues if it keeps operating on present fee levels.

Experts agree that the service needs improvement. “When USCIS increases filing fees, our hope is that they will use the increased revenue to improve efficiency and reduce processing times,” said Justin Storch, manager of agency liaison at the Council for Global Immigration, an affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management, based in the Washington, D.C., area.

“Some of the proposed increases are quite high,” said Denise Rahmani, director of the U.S. immigration program for software firm Oracle. She noted that Oracle “generally takes these things in stride simply as an increase in the cost of doing business” and echoed other employer representatives’ stated hopes that the funds generated by the fee increases will result in an improvement in processing.

Although Congress mandated agency processing timelines in 2000, USCIS consistently fails to meet the standards, said Matthew Schulz, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based partner at global law firm Dentons. “[Congress] set 30-day processing times for most employer-sponsored nonimmigrant visas and 180-day processing times for most employer-sponsored immigration. Processing times tend to be at least twice as long or worse,” he added.

USCIS is primarily funded—95 percent—by immigration and naturalization benefit request fees charged to applicants and petitioners. The agency’s remaining funding comes from a small discretionary appropriation. Fees were last overhauled in 2010.

Interested stakeholders can submit comments on the proposed rule by July 5, 2016.

Highest Fees Impact Employers of High-Skilled Talent

The highest fee increases will impact U.S. employers that bring college-educated workers to the country, as well as immigrant investors.

The agency is proposing a 42 percent increase in the fee for filing Form I-129, which is used for H-1B professional and L-1 intracompany transfer visas (from $325 to $460).

“That’s a steep increase for any government fee,” said Amy Gulati, manager of HR operations and responsible for immigration processing at Cvent, an event management software company based in McLean, Va. “Increasing fees and potentially increasing portability of various filings is guaranteed to make employers scrutinize these investments more closely. If the increased fees result in faster service, that’s great, but things have become so backlogged that it will take a while to catch up to neutral,” she said.

USCIS is also proposing a 21 percent increase in the fee for filing Form I-140, which is used to request that a foreign worker become a permanent resident in the U.S. (from $580 to $700).

“I think this will have the biggest impact on smaller businesses, where the cost will be felt more,” Gulati said. “Also challenging is the fact that employers cannot share costs with the employee for some of these case types, so it’s effectively a sunk cost.”

The steepest fee hikes are aimed at the EB-5 visa program, which provides green cards to foreign residents who invest significant money in a U.S. business and create jobs for American workers. USCIS is proposing to raise the fee for filing Form I-526 by 145 percent, from $1,500 to $3,675. Entities seeking designation as EB-5 regional centers, which allow immigrants to pool their investments, would see a 186 percent increase in the fee for filing Form I-924, from $6,230 to $17,795.

As of January 2016, there were 790 USCIS-approved regional centers, according to the agency. Approved regional centers are currently required to annually file the supplementary Form I-924A to demonstrate continued eligibility. USCIS is proposing a brand-new $3,035 filing fee for this form, as it “incurs significant costs” administering the often complex program.

Premium processing fees, which guarantee agency adjudication of employment-based petitions and applications within an accelerated time frame, will remain at $1,225.

The agency is proposing to limit the fee increase for Form I-765, known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), to 8 percent for “humanitarian and practical reasons.” These forms are filed by workers seeking immigration benefits who “face financial obstacles and cannot earn money through lawful employment in the United States until they receive an EAD,” the agency said.

Statutory H-1B, L-1 Fees Included

The proposed rule includes the fees for heavy users of the H-1B ($4,000) and L-1 ($4,500) visa programs set by Congress in 2015.

The fees apply to employers with 50 or more employees in the United States and more than 50 percent of those employees in H-1B or L-1 status. These fees are already being collected, and USCIS does not have the discretion to modify them.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMRoy.

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