For the first time since 2016, USCIS is changing the fees it charges for virtually all immigration filings.  Unlike most other federal agencies, USCIS is almost entirely fee-funded, with 96% of its operating budget coming from filing fees and only 4% from Congressional appropriations.  As the volume of immigration filings has skyrocketed in recent years, USCIS has struggled to keep up with demand, which has resulted in backlogs and longer processing times across the board.  USCIS tried to increase its fees back in 2020 but that change was ultimately blocked by litigation.  In January 2023, USCIS published a new proposed fee schedule and solicited public comments.  After taking almost a full year to conduct a comprehensive review of the comments and concerns raised by the public, USCIS made additional changes to the fee schedule and published the final version on January 30, 2024.  The new fees will take effect on April 1, 2024.

While fees are going up across the board, some categories will be hit harder than others.  For example, the fee for an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative (which is the first step for most family-based immigration cases) is going up from $535 to $675, an increase of $140 or 26%.  Meanwhile, companies filing an I-129 petition seeking L-1 status for an international transferee will now pay a whopping $1,385 instead of the current $460, which is an increase of 201%.  Employers with fewer than 25 employees will receive a 50% discount on the I-129 filing fee, which will help soften the blow to small businesses.  USCIS will also offer a $50 discount for applications that are filed electronically, although currently e-filing is only available for a small number of form types.  USCIS expects to add additional forms to its e-filing portfolio over the next few years as the agency seeks to modernize its operations.

Fees will also go up significantly for both family-based and employment-based green card applicants.  Typically, a person who is already in the U.S. applies for a green card by filing an I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status.  At the same time, most people also file an I-765 work permit application (so that they can work while waiting for their green card) and an I-131 advance parole application (to allow them to travel abroad without jeopardizing their pending green card case).  Under the current structure, USCIS does not charge people who have filed an I-485 any filing fee for the I-765 and I-131 applications; the I-485 filing fee of $1,225 covers the whole trio of forms.  However, under the new structure, separate fees will be charged for each of these applications, which will bring the cost for a typical green card applicant up to $2,305.  Adjustment applicants will need to carefully consider whether the benefits of having a work permit and/or advance parole are worth the extra cost under the new system.

Separately from the main fee schedule change, USCIS is also increasing its fee for premium processing service, which guarantees faster action on certain types of employment-based cases in exchange for an extra fee.  Since premium processing is an optional expedited service, USCIS can increase this fee on its own volition without first publishing it for public comment.  The current premium processing fees range from $1,500 – $2,500 depending on the type of case and will go up to $1,685 – $2,805 effective February 26, 2024.  These new rates are based on inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index over the last few years.

If you have questions about the new fee schedule or if you want to try and get your case filed before the prices go up, contact Best Law today!