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USCIS increases fees for citizenship and other applications on October 2, 2020

USCIS increases fees for citizenship

USCIS will be increasing its fee for various immigration applications or petitions, for example the fees for international students who need work authorization, new citizens, and for businesses. Luckily, there’s still plenty of time to get the ball rolling if you want to beat the fee increases.

In July this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHIS), of which USCIS is a part, released the final version of a fee rule that was first proposed in November the previous year. The fees are going to take effect from October 2, 2020. The price increases range from 21% for visa category H-1B, right up to a 100% increase for the L visa category. USCIS is also set to impose a fee of $50 on asylum-seekers. They also have to pay $550 to apply for an initial work permit, even though they’re not allowed to work before then.  

If you’ve not yet started your immigrationprocess, there’s no time like the present if you are trying to file under the current, reduced fee schedule.

Why is USCIS adjusting its fees?

The Department of Homeland Security announced the final rule on July 31, 2020. The rule adjusts fees for certain immigration and naturalization benefit requests. The official reason provided is that the agency needs the extra funds to ensure USCIS recovers the cost of its services.

USCIS is not the same as most other government agencies in that its funding comes from the fees it collects. Nearly 97% of the USCIS budget comes from fees collected and deposited into the Immigration Examinations Fee Account.

Every two years, the law requires USCIS to conduct a comprehensive fee review in order to determine whether the current fees are covering the cost of the adjudication and naturalization service it provides. At present, if fees remained the same, the agency would be under-funded by around $1 billion per year.

The increased costs include those for adjudicating immigration benefit requests, detecting and deterring immigration fraud, and for thoroughly vetting applicants, beneficiaries, and petitioners. A certain percentage of the increased fees will also go towards supporting payroll, technology, and to help the USCIS mission.

One small glimmer of light comes in the form of a $10 reduction in the fee for any applicants who submit forms online.

What do the fee increases mean for you?

Starting October 2, any permanent residents who are eligible and want to apply for US citizenship will have to pay $1,160 to submit an application online, or $1,170 for a paper application.

There’s another change that’s going to make a significant difference, especially for lower income applicants. From October 2 most of the fee waivers that would allow lower income individuals to apply for immigration benefits for free are being discontinued. The exceptions are:

  • Victims of domestic violence
  • Victims of crime and human trafficking
  • Afghani and Iraqi nationals who assisted the US government
  • Minors applying for special immigrant visas who are still under the supervision of a juvenile court or child welfare agency

In previous years, there was no cost to apply for asylum, but that’s changing too in October. Anyone fleeing persecution in their home country is now going to have to pay $50 to apply for asylum.

EB-5 immigrant investors are also getting hit with an increase in fees. The cost of applying for an EB-5 investor green card will increase  by 9%.  

The good news is, it’s not too late to submit your naturalization application before the fee increases. As an experienced immigration attorney I would be happy to assist with preparing and filing your naturalization application.

I offer confidential 30 minute & 1 hour consultations.

What are the benefits of US citizenship?

Many rights are provided with US citizenship, along with certain responsibilities. When you become a US citizen, you gain many rights you would not have if you stayed a permanent resident, for example the right to vote. There are also several more benefits you get to enjoy.

  • Protection from deportation: Both you and your children receive protection from deportation
  • Citizenship for your children: If you have children under the age of 18 and who are lawful permanent residents, they automatically become US citizens if you naturalize
  • Family reunification: As a US citizen, you’re able to file immigration petitions with the government in order to reunite with family members. As a permanent resident, you can only file petitions for a spouse, minor children, and unmarried adult sons and daughters. As a US citizen, however, you can petition for additional family members such as siblings, parents, and married adult sons and daughters.
  • Eligibility for government jobs: Jobs in the federal government are only available to US citizens. You’re also likely to earn more as a US citizen. As a US citizen you can expect to earn, on average, between 50 and 70 percent more than a noncitizen. Employment rates are also higher for US citizens. As a new citizen, you can also expect your individual earnings to increase up to 11 percent.
  • Freedom to travel: As a permanent resident the amount of time you can spend outside the United States is restricted during a given year. This is not the case if you become a US citizen. In addition, you’re also eligible for help and protection from US embassies and consulates abroad in the event of civil unrest or a personal crisis during foreign travel.
  • Other benefits: As a U S citizen, you’ll have access to critical public benefits, such as disability benefits. 

Wherever you live in the US, you can get help with your citizenship application. Contact a New York immigration lawyer if you have any questions or need guidance through the naturalization process.

Are you eligible to apply for US citizenship?

To be eligible for naturalization, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Be a permanent residence for 5 years (unless you are married and residing with a US citizen, in which case it’s 3 years) 
  • Be a person of good moral character
  • Have a basic knowledge of US history and government (in some cases you may be exempted from this requirement)
  • Meet the  continuous residence and physical presence requirements in the US 
  • Be able to read, write, and speak basic English (in some cases you may be exempted from this requirement)

How to apply for US citizenship

Please see below a general description of the naturalization application process. Please note, these are just the general steps in the application process. We always advise that you consult an immigration attorney, or if you prepare your case on your own, to carefully read all USCIS instructions. Mistakes in the preparation of your naturalization application may lead to delays in your case processing. l

Step 1. Determine whether you are already a US citizen

You could be a US citizen by birth, acquired or derived US citizenship from your parents automatically after birth. If none of these apply to you, move on to the next step.

Step 2. Determine whether you are eligible to become a US citizen

Do any of the requirements listed above apply to you? You can apply for naturalization if you are at least 18 years of age and have been a permanent resident of the US for at least 5 years. You are also eligible to apply if you have been a permanent resident for at least 3 years, during which time you have been, and continue to be, married to and living in a marital relationship with your U S citizen spouse. You are also eligible if you have honorable service in the US military. Certain spouses of US citizens and/or members of the military may be able to file for naturalization sooner.

Step 3. Complete Form N-400, application for naturalization

First, create a free online account where you can complete Form N-400. You also need to collect and upload the necessary documents that demonstrate your eligibility for naturalization. Anyone who resides outside of the US also needs 2 passport-style photos.

Step 4. Submit the form and pay your fees

You can submit the form and pay the necessary fees online. Don’t forget, however, that fees are due to increase considerably on October 2. We encourage you to apply before that date to save a considerable amount of money. Once you have submitted Form N-400, USCIS will send you a receipt notice. Once your application is submitted,  you can check your case processing time and the status of your case online on the USCIS website.  

Step 5. Attend a biometrics appointment if necessary

USCIS will send you an appointment notice for fingerprinting. Always make sure to arrive at the designated location on time.

Step 6. Complete the interview

USCIS will schedule an interview once all the preliminary processes on your case are complete. Make sure you arrive on time and take your appointment notice with you.

Step 7. Wait for the decision from USCIS

USCIS will mail a notice of decision to you. It will be either granted, continued, or denied. Continued means you may need to provide additional evidence/documentation, have failed to provide the correct documents, or failed the English and/or civics test the first time. Denied means the evidence in your record shows you are not eligible for naturalization. In both these cases, if you haven’t already done so, we would encourage you to talk with an immigration attorney who can help you evaluate the next step in your case.

How an immigration attorney can help your case

There are several ways an immigration attorney can help you with your naturalization case. 

Whether you’re eligible to naturalize is not always a simple yes or no answer

The basic requirements aren’t overly complex, but there is a long list of hidden issues that can create problems. For example, if you were outside the US for over a year, owe back taxes, or have criminal convictions, such as a DUI, your case may require additional documentation and explanations to convince the officer that you qualify for naturalization. 

Even if you meet the general eligibility requirements, there may be complicating factors in your case

There are several factors that must be considered before determining your eligibility for naturalization and proceeding with your application. They include:

  • Prior arrests
  • Prior convictions
  • Failure to pay your taxes
  • Failure to pay court-ordered alimony
  • Not supporting your children

As an experienced immigration law firm, we have the know-how to evaluate your naturalization case and determine whether you qualify for US citizenship. If you have any complicating factors, we can determine how to best address them so that your case may be approved. We have experience preparing and filing naturalization applications, and guide our clients through the entire process, including attending their naturalization interview to help them address any issues the officer raises during the interview. 

If you wish to file your naturalization application before October 2, please contact our immigration law firm to schedule a consultation with our immigration attorney.  

I offer confidential 30 minute & 1 hour consultations.