Department of Homeland Security proposal increases cost to become U.S. citizen, adds other fees

The cost to become a U.S. citizen is expected to rise.

The Department of Homeland Security proposed an 83 percent increase on the application cost for naturalization (Form N-400) in a notice published in the Federal Register last week. The total cost would climb from $640 to $1,170 under the DHS's plan.

"This proposed adjustment in fees would ensure more applicants cover the true cost of their applications and minimizes subsidies from an already over-extended system," Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said in a statement. "Furthermore, the adjudication of immigration applications and petitions requires in-depth screening, incurring costs that must be covered by the agency, and this proposal accounts for our operational needs and better aligns our fee schedule with the costs of processing each request."

The proposal also seeks to abolish fee waivers for the naturalization application and eliminates the reduced fee option for anyone living in a household with a family income between 150 and 200 percent of the poverty line.

Experts have criticized the proposal, including Manuel Pastor, a professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration at USC.

"Those who have attended a naturalization ceremony are invariably struck by a profound realization: Becoming American is not about race or religion but about agreeing to a set of principles and values embedded in our history and our Constitution," Pastor wrote in an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times. "Making it harder to become part of the American family may be politically convenient but it runs straight against those values."

Those are not the only fee changes that DHS is planning to implement. For the first time, the U.S. government plans to require a payment for affirmative asylum applications ($50) and work permits ($490).

If the proposal goes into effect, the United States would become just the fourth country to charge asylum seekers a fee, joining Australia, Fiji and Iran, as noted by CBS News.

"Once again, this administration is attempting to use every tool at its disposal to restrict legal immigration and even U.S. citizenship," said Doug Rand, the co-founder of Boundless and a former White House official during the Obama administration, in a statement. "It's an unprecedented weaponization of government fees."

In addition, the fee for individuals protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to renew their status will increase from $495 to $765.

DACA was introduced in 2012 by President Barack Obama and offered temporary protection to almost 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. President Donald Trump announced in Sept. 2017 he was ending the program, a decision that was challenged by multiple federal lawsuits. Earlier this month, the case was argued before the Supreme Court.

The proposal was published Nov. 14 and is subject to a 30-day comment period, half the time normally allotted for public review. The final rule would likely not be implemented until at least March 2020 and could be blocked by the courts, Rand speculated on Twitter.

Garfinkel Immigration Law Firm continues to monitor the situation closely and will reach out and advise as it impacts our clients.

As always, please do not hesitate to call us at 704-442-8000 or contact us via email with any questions.

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