Silicon Valley Immigrants Can't Afford High USCIS Fees - Which Will Only Get Higher

Today's San Jose Mercury News highlighted the plight of a local Cambodian woman who immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee, and has long been eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. Ms. Chantel In was born in the 1970's in Cambodia, during the brutal reign of Pol Pot. Her family survived and immigrated to the U.S. as refugees, eventually settling in California. Ms. In has been a U.S. permanent resident (a green card holder) for several years, but has not yet applied for U.S. citizenship. The $675 USCIS application fee is just too high, and Ms. In simply cannot afford it. The San Jose Mercury News included her story as part of their seasonal Wish Book campaign.

Unfortunately, USCIS fees are only expected to go higher. USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas recently stated that a 2010 fee increase is likely. USCIS funding relies heavily on the fees generated by applications. Applications, and therefore filing fees, plummeted in 2009 leaving the USCIS with a $164 million shortfall. But filing fees are already high enough to create obstacles to people like Ms. In. The cost for a family of four (two adults and two minor children) to file for an adjustment of status (for a green card) would range from $3220 to over $4000, depending upon the age of the children. That fee does not include additional, non-fee costs such as medical exams for each applicant and photos.

The USCIS does allow applicants to apply for a fee waiver. Applicants must show that they are elderly or disabled, have been receiving Federal means-tested public benefits, are destitute, are living below the Federal Poverty line, or have other extenuating circumstances. If the fee waiver request is denied, the application is returned and the applicant can resubmit it with the fee.

Immigration Reform / by Michelle Gee