USCIS has proposed new and increased fees for immigration benefit requests. Among those affected are asylum seekers, DACA recipients and those applying for naturalization.
Asylum seekers are among the most vulnerable because they seek protection from persecution. Many asylum claims are valid and well-documented, but new fees pose an additional barrier to making a claim. Currently, asylum seekers are not required to pay a filing fee. The new fees will prevent certain foreigners from applying for asylum because they cannot afford the filing fee. A fee waiver due to poverty will not be available. Naturally, many applicants who have valid claims to asylum are fleeing their country without assets and will be the most affected by any fees.
Changes in USCIS Fees
Changes in fees occur periodically. In this case, the USCIS reports a $1.3 billion dollar shortfall. Fees provide 96% of USCIS funding. Applicants cover the cost of case processing through the USCIS immigration system. It is not like most other government agencies which rely on tax dollars for funding. The new fees across all types of applications will result in a weighted average increase of fees of 21 percent.
The most significant change is the introduction of a fee for asylum applications, but the increase will also affect participants of the DACA program. DACA renewal fees will increase from $495 to $765. Other significant increases will affect naturalization applications. Their cost will rise from $640 to $1,170, which is an 83% increase.
Unprecedented Asylum Fee
The controversial part of the proposal is the introduction of a $50 fee for affirmative asylum applications (as opposed to defensive asylum, when the applicant applies for asylum as a defense in removal proceedings). The inability to request a fee waiver due to poverty will prevent some applicants from filing a claim.
Work Authorization: Moreover, under the proposed changes, asylum seekers will not be allowed to work in the United States during the first year after submitting their application. The current waiting time to file for an Employment Authorization Document is 150 days, or 5 months. Also, some categories of asylum seekers might not be eligible to obtain work permits at all (e.g. if they were charged with certain crimes such as D.U.I.). Moreover, the proposed fee for EAD was increased from $410 to $490.
Currently, only 3 other countries charge for asylum applications: Iran, Fiji and Australia. There can also be indirect fees such as for a medical examination, translation service, or accommodation in detention facilities. Most countries perceive that asylum is a basic right based for humanitarian reasons. The U.S. participates in international collaboration to help asylum seekers and refugees. These efforts are in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
Total Cost of Asylum (why should I hire an immigration lawyer?)
Application fee might not be the only cost of the asylum application. Apart from travel expenses, the most significant cost is the price of legal representation. However, in 2017, 90 percent of applicants without immigration lawyers were denied asylum. What makes the difference is that experienced attorneys spend time with the client, learning about the circumstances back home and what led them to flee to the U.S. Relevant documents can be put forward based on these individual situations. The attorney can also help the client consider other options, as well as evaluate chances of success prior to submission. Immigration lawyer fees vary based on experience and qualification of each lawyer, and the type of immigration case.
During the application process, the applicant would need to present large supporting documentation to prove general conditions of their country of origin, as well as the “specific facts” that support the asylum claim.
It is most important to be concise and honest during the whole application process. People understand compelling truth, which can be a powerful motivator for adjudicating officers and judges to want to help. Immigration attorneys have expertise in evaluating these difficult story-lines and experiences to create the most persuasive application. While the financial burden brought on by an attorney is significant, it might prove to be a deciding factor in who is granted asylum.
Current State of the Proposal
The proposal was published on November 14, 2019 with a one-month public comment period. The period was reopened to February 10, 2020. After reviewing the comments, the final rule will be published in the Federal Register.