Federal officials want to increase fees for immigration documents by 10 percent, but are making an exception for the price of citizenship, which already costs aspiring Americans nearly $700.
The cost of getting a green card, a work permit and some visa forms must rise for the first time in three years to make up for a budget shortfall, said Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, in a news conference Wednesday.
The fee proposals face a 45-day public comment period, which many California immigrant advocates say they will use to express their opposition to the proposed rates. A green card application, which allows a person to become a legal permanent resident of the United States, would rise in cost by 6 percent to $985, not including the $85 fingerprint fee that comes with it.
"It's already a ridiculously high fee," San Francisco immigration lawyer Randall Caudle said. "There was the promise back in 2007 that they wouldn't raise fees for a long time, and 2007 wasn't a long time ago."
USCIS is required by law to review its fees every two years. Mayorkas said the proposed increases are cost-based and are closely associated with how much money the government incurs for different kinds of applications.
The proposed increases, which average 10 percent across the board, include additions of fees that never existed before, such as a $6,230 charge for the EB-5 visa program, which is for wealthy immigrants willing to invest at least $500,000 in the American economy. The fee would be paid by anyone who files an application to create one of the regional centers that attract immigrant investors and pool their investments. California already has more than 20 such centers that would not be affected because they have already been government-approved.
Mayorkas stressed that to encourage civic values, he wants to keep the price of citizenship flat, given its "significant public benefit to the nation and the nation's proud tradition of welcoming new citizens."
The cost of obtaining citizenship rose to $675, including the cost of fingerprinting, following a sudden 69 percent hike in 2007. That increase, along with excitement among aspiring voters in advance of the 2008 presidential election, led millions to rush to apply for citizenship before the fee spike took effect.
"They realize how important citizenship is to a lot of people and what good it does for the country," said Mark Yoshida, a lawyer at the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American Legal Center who was pleased that the citizenship fee will remain the same after the dramatic rise three years ago. But he was not enthused about the proposed increases for other immigration fees.
Although they differ with Mayorkas on the proposed hikes, many Bay Area immigrant groups give high marks to the immigration and citizenship director, whose family fled Cuba when he was a boy. Mayorkas was raised in Southern California, earned a degree from UC Berkeley and served as a federal prosecutor in California before President Barack Obama appointed him last year.
In an interview this spring, Mayorkas said he was trying to build morale and efficiency in the immigration agency. He made similar comments in April during a gathering of Bay Area lawyers, advocates and other immigration stakeholders, telling a story about his Cuban aunt who reused many of her belongings because she was trying to save up money to become a citizen.
"He understands and he's coming from outside the agency," Caudle said. "He talked about instilling in the USCIS officers the fact they're doing something very important. They're not paper pushers."
at a glance
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is proposing increases in immigration document fees:
Application for green card: $985 (from $930)
Application to replace green card: $365 (from $290)
Application to be temporary resident: $1,130 (from $710)
Application for work permit: $380 (from $340)
Petition for alien relative: $420 (from $355)
Immigrant visa: $165 (from $0; immigrants already pay visa fees to State Department)
Biometric/fingerprinting: $85 (from $80)
Civil surgeon designation: $615 (from $0)
regional center for immigrant investors: $6,230 (from $0)
Naturalization (citizenship): $595 (no change)
details: Go to www.regulations.gov or www.uscis.gov to learn how to comment on the proposals.
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services