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USCIS plans to hike naturalization fees, remove subsidies this fall

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If the U.S. government is trying to make it harder to become a citizen, it appears to be working.

The coronavirus has created havoc at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It led to a sudden, dramatic loss of income. It will potentially put 70% of its staff on furlough in the next week. The agency is seeking a $1.2 billion emergency relief package to save its basic services.

It also plans to increase fees in October. For one thing, it proposed a 10% surcharge for all services. For another, it plans to increase the fee for naturalization to $1,170 ($1,160 online) from $640 today.

Additionally, it plans to eliminate most people’s opportunity for a reduced fee based on need. The threshold to qualify for a total waiver of the fee will be lowered. The chance for a partial subsidy of the fee will be eliminated. Immigrants will no longer be able to ask for a fee waiver due to extenuating financial hardship or receiving means tested public benefits.

The fee waiver will remain in place for victims of human trafficking or domestic violence.

“It’s a low blow during a pandemic,” comments one woman interviewed by the New York Times. She has worked hard to get a chance for citizenship, but she hasn’t been able to get a fee waiver despite losing most of her business due to the coronavirus.

What are the reasons behind the fee increases?

Although the pandemic brought great financial stress to the USCIS, spokespeople for the agency deny that it is the main reason for the fee increases.

The agency’s deputy director for policy referred to the fee increases as “overdue adjustments” that come after a routine financial analysis. The acting deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security said that the increases were necessary for the fees to reflect the “true cost” of processing citizenship applications.

Yet critics argue that the fee increases are essentially a wealth test for U.S. citizenship and are meant to make it harder for people without money to become naturalized. They contend that mismanagement and inefficiencies are responsible for the budget shortfalls at the USCIS.

Critics also say that this is part of a long-standing effort to target immigrants from poorer nations and people of color.

If you are hoping to become a U.S. citizen, you need to act quickly. The USCIS is already at limited capacity and may be even less available in September. Nevertheless, with fees slated to go up in October, you will want to get your application in as soon as possible.

To get started, contact Yew Immigration Law Group. We have years of experience helping people obtain U.S. citizenship.