USCIS Issues Final Rule on Fee Increases

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published a final rule which will implement new and increased fees for nonimmigrant visas including the H-1B, L-1, O, E and TN used for workforce mobility to the United States.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a final rule on 3 August listing new and increased fees which the agency deems necessary to cover the full costs of providing adjudication and naturalization services. The USCIS states the new fee level reflects a weighted average increase of 20% from its current fees. The new and increased fees will take effect on 2 October.

USCIS is mostly funded by the fees which account for 97% of its annual budget. According to the USCIS press release on the final rule, the agency is experiencing an approximately $1 billion annual shortfall. The USCIS last reviewed and adjusted fees in 2016.

The fees set in the final rule do not take into account the impact on the policies put into place with the COVID-19 pandemic which have resulted in a sharp decline in petitions and thus revenue. USCIS has requested the Congress to appropriate an additional $571 million for FY2020 and $650 million for FY2021 to offset losses in revenue due to the pandemic. The agency was scheduled to furlough roughly 13,000 of its employees on 3 August but has since delayed the activity until the end of August with the hope of receiving additional funds. It is very possible that the next round of stimulus legislation may include the hundreds of millions of dollars for the agency’s request that will need to be paid back by USCIS through these fee increases.

In the final rule, USCIS increased the filing fees for several visas used in workforce mobility:

  • The petition fee for the L-1 increased from $460 to $805
  • The fee for the H-1B from $460 to $555 and
  • The TN (NAFTA professionals from Canada and Mexico) from $460 to $695.

The new fees will apply to those applications postmarked on October 2 or later. USCIS will also apply the 9-11 Response and Biometric Entry-Exit Fee to all new and extension petitions for petitioners with over 50 employees and more than 50% of their employees holding H-1B or L-1 visas. The agency expects to generate an additional $199.2 million a year with the extensions of covered petitions.

In addition to the new and increased fees, USCIS is extending the premium processing time for visas to 15 business days or 3 weeks from the current 15 calendar days or just over two weeks processing time. The Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) will be separated into a form for each category of visa with a corresponding fee for that category.

The agency will also use Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery for sending secure documents to applicants. Applicants will therefore be able to track the status of the delivery. The final rule also eliminates the $30 returned check fee for payments submitted with applications and clarifies that the agency will resubmit a denied request for payment one additional time to the financial institution and if there are still insufficient funds the application will be rejected.

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How This Impacts Mobility

With the new fee structure not taking effect until 2 October and the current U.S. suspension on the issuance of new nonimmigrant visas from overseas, the impact of the higher costs associated with the visa petitions will be less. Once the suspension has lifted, however, the cost of obtaining the visas of employees being relocated to the U.S. will increase. Corporations and organizations will therefore need to budget for the increased costs as appropriate.