Immigrant Leaders Balance Optimism With Concern Around Proposed Naturalization Fee Changes

May 4, 2016

Immigrant Leaders Balance Optimism With Concern Around Proposed Naturalization Fee Changes

Citizenship providers celebrate proposed expansion of fee waivers while expressing concern over fee increases

(CHICAGO)- The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, celebrates a significant victory for working class immigrants.  US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has posted a proposal to expand a fee waiver for immigrants with incomes between up to 200% of federal poverty guidelines who submit applications to naturalize as citizens.  When this proposal takes effect, qualifying immigrants will be able to pay half of the regular fee, or $320 instead of $640. This rule raises the income threshold from 150% to 200% of the federal poverty level for qualifying applicants.

Most applicants would still need to pay an $85 biometric fee, but the total cost would still be $405 instead of $725.  USCIS estimates that this partial waiver will benefit tens of thousands of immigrants throughout the country.

The cost for long-term legal immigrants to become US citizens has gone up significantly over the past two decades.  This fee has prevented many immigrants from becoming citizens and fully taking part in the life of their new home.  Over the years ICIRR and other organizations across the country have called on the INS and later USCIS to keep the citizenship fee affordable and enable more immigrants to apply.

This partial fee waiver is the result of years of local and national advocacy and organizing by ICIRR and its partners on the local, state, and national level, in particular the National Partnership for New Americans and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement.

While we celebrate, some of the recommended rules arise concern to ICIRR’s membership.  First, USCIS is proposing to raise fees for many immigration applications.  The cost to sponsor a relative to immigrate would go up $115.  The cost for qualifying immigrants to apply for a green card would go up $155, to $1,140, before adding other associated fees.   The cost to renew a green card would go up $90.  The cost to replace a citizenship certificate would go up $210, to $555.  Most concerning, the cost of a citizenship certificate, for children who can claim citizenship through US citizen parents, will nearly double from $600 to $1,170. 

Additionally, ICIRR is concerned with the fact that USCIS finds it necessary to levy new fees while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been provided with enough resources to conduct raids to separate families resulting in a spike in deportations throughout the country. ICIRR calls for a reallocation of resources towards naturalization support and away from deportation, before fee increases are considered.

These increases come as Illinois continues to grapple without an Immigrant Service Line item budget, and providers offer as much assistance as they can with depleted resources.  ICIRR and its members will organize comments to USCIS to express concerns about the proposed fee increases.

ICIRR also urges anyone who currently qualifies to apply for citizenship to not wait. Immigrant voices and votes will be crucial for this fall’s elections, as Illinois picks our president, US Senator and Congress members, and state legislators.  In order to become a citizen in time to vote this fall and make your voice heard, applications must be submitted this month!

For more information, contact Fred Tsao, ICIRR senior policy counsel at 312-332-7360 x213 or via email  ftsao@icirr.org.