Comments by Sanwar Ali:
It was expected that from tomorrow Friday 2 October there would be a huge increase in a number of USCIS US visa fees and the US citizenship fee. L1 visa fees for example were expected to increase by 75%. If the fee increase had gone ahead as expected there would be both a worse service and higher fees. A cynic might say that the fee increase would have meant paying higher fees so that USCIS has more resources to spend more time to come up with reasons to refuse your visa application, or to ask for what is frequently unnecessary additional information! Thanks to the injunction this is not happening for the time being.
Litigation relating to US visas and Government policy is a frequent occurrence. Will US visa fees increase in price in the next few months? What will happen if Biden is elected President? With all the confusion many people may very well have their US visa applications returned by USCIS because the wrong fee has been paid!
Increases to US visa and citizenship fees, set to rise on October 2, have been blocked by a federal court in San Francisco. The fee increases were announced in July by the Department of Homeland Security with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is funded totally by immigration fees, on the brink of collapse amid coronavirus.
Under the new fee increases, which looked set to go ahead, a US citizenship application would have increased by 80% to $1,160, up from $640. Meanwhile, for the first time in US history, a $50 fee for asylum was set to be introduced and fee waivers for low-income earners would have been scrapped.
A number of immigrant advocacy groups had sued the Department of Homeland Security and the Trump administration in an effort to block the fee increases. For the time being at least, it seems efforts have proven successful.
Nationwide preliminary injunction on US visa fee increase
Jeffrey S. White, the US District Judge for the Northern District of California, issued a nationwide preliminary injunction, which ruled that allowing the fee increases to occur pending the outcome of the lawsuit would ‘irreparably harm immigrants who couldn’t afford the new fees.’
Judge White, who was appointed by former US President George W. Bush, said: “If it takes effect, it will prevent vulnerable and low-income applicants from applying for immigration benefits, block access to humanitarian protections, and will expose populations to further danger.”
Unless the Department of Homeland Security decides to appeal Judge White’s decision, US visa and citizenship fee increases will remain on hold until a full ruling over the case is decided.
USCIS said: “We are reviewing the ruling on the fee rule and we’ll be making no further comment at this time.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has yet to comment on Judge White’s ruling.
US visa fee increases a regular occurrence
US visa and immigration fees are typically increased every two to four years, in line with inflation and rising costs. However, immigrant advocates condemned the latest fee increases, describing them as ‘extortionate’ and designed to price low-income immigrants out of coming to the US or applying for American citizenship.
Director of programs at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and a plaintiff in the case, Melissa Rodgers said: “When you increase fees so much and you eliminate fee waivers, you’re completely pricing out millions of people from accessing opportunities that Congress wanted them to have.”
The fee increases are just one of many tactics used by Trump to deter low-income immigrants from arriving or settling in the US.
In February, the controversial public charge policy was launched, which essentially assesses the wealth of immigrants looking to become legal permanent residents. The charge analyses factors such as education, English-speaking ability and financial assets.
Meanwhile, another policy, which was also blocked in court, sought to have immigrants demonstrate that they have healthcare cover or have the funds to afford it, prior to being granted entry to the US.
Chad Wolf's position as acting secretary of Homeland Security unlawful
In blocking the fee increases, Judge White said that his decision was, in part, down to Chad Wolf’s position as acting secretary of Homeland Security. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment determined that Wolf is serving in the post illegally, with Judge White agreeing with the GAO’s assessment.
Judge White is the second federal judge to rule that Chad Wolf holds the post of acting secretary of Homeland Security illegally under the 2002 Homeland Security Act. Questions over the lawfulness of Wolf’s appointment also resulted in a Maryland Judge blocking new asylum rules.
However, while judges can block proposed changes attempted by Wolf on the basis that he does not have the authority to issue them, they are unable to remove him from his post.
Decision affects USCIS funding
Judge White’s decision comes as a blow to USCIS, with US visa and immigration fees accounting for approximately 97% of its $5 billion annual budget. In August, the agency narrowly avoided having to furlough more than 13,000 workers after projecting a budget shortfall because of the coronavirus and Trump’s US work visa ban.
The stricken agency is now set for more financial woes if it is unable to raise its fees.
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