US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is likely to run out of money soon. To address this issue, USCIS has asked Congress for an emergency funding of $1.2 billion. 

USCIS wants to increase immigration application fees by 10% to generate more revenue. And once the agency starts functioning normally again, it plans to use the extra money to repay the Congress. 

USCIS Reasoning for the surcharge

USCIS generates most of its income from the application fees that it collects. The coronavirus pandemic has left USCIS offices closed and most of its normal work suspended since March this year. A USCIS spokesperson has said that there could be a drop of more than 60% revenue by September 30, which is the end of the fiscal year. 

Impact of recent immigration policies

The administration’s demanding immigration policies have led to a drop in the number of applications for citizenship, green card, refugee and asylum status, most visas, and immigration benefits. People generally feel discouraged from applying because of the increasing number of denials. Also, the “public charge” rule denies green cards to applicants if they are likely to use government benefits like food stamps. The requirements and resources for in-person interviews and fraud detection have increased. There has also been an increase in the number of RFEs – requests for evidence. This means applicants are being asked to provide more evidence related to their applications. This delays the process further and also increases expenses.

Effects of USCIS office closures

The closing of USCIS offices has slowed down application processing. There is a threat to the legal status of hundreds of thousands of applicants because of the long delays in renewing their visas. 

Thousands of people who have already passed their citizenship test and interview are not able to take their citizenship oath. This is due to the cancellation of oath ceremonies, the final step in becoming a citizen. The USCIS generally conducts these ceremonies for a large number of people at a time. Large gatherings are not allowed now because of the pandemic. 

There are hundreds of thousands of citizenship applications pending and more are being added every month. The processing time has increased. This means these people will most likely not be able to vote in the 2020 elections.

USCIS’s proposed surcharge will make it more difficult for immigrants from low-income groups. Last year there had been a proposal by the Trump administration to increase the fee for applying for naturalization from $640 to $1,170. 

While the delay in processing cannot be avoided given the pandemic, what can be done is to apply for an immigration benefit now and pay the current fees. Waiting longer is going to end up in people having to pay more when the USCIS announces its price increase. The USCIS is likely to do this sooner as it is reported that they will be briefing the relevant committees in the House next week.