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USCIS fee changes, effective December 23, 2016

Shocked

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a final rule adjusting the fee schedule for many immigration applications and petitions processed by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The new fee schedule will become effective on December 23, 2016. Applications and petitions postmarked or filed on or after that date must include the new fees.

As determined by DHS, adjusting the fee schedule is necessary to fully recover costs and maintain adequate service. This is the first adjustment in the last six years.

Under this final rule, DHS will increase fees by a weighted average of 21 percent; establish a new fee of $3,035, covering USCIS costs related to processing the employment-based immigrant visa, fifth preference (EB-5) Annual Certification of Regional Center, Form I-924A; establish a three-level fee for the Application for Naturalization, Form N-400; and remove regulatory provisions that prevent USCIS from rejecting an immigration or naturalization benefit request paid with a dishonored check or lacking the required biometric services fee until the remitter has been provided an opportunity to correct the deficient payment.

While the fees for some petitions will remain the same, others will see significant increases. The highest increases are for the visas used by American businesses to bring skilled workers to the United States, immigrant investors creating jobs for Americans and immigrants acknowledged to have extraordinary ability.

The new fee schedule includes increased fee for the Form I-129 to $460 from $325. Form I-129 used for the most common work visas, including H-1B professional, O-1 extraordinary ability, and L-1 intracompany transfer visas, as well as E-1 treaty trader, E-2 treaty investor and E-3/FTA H-1B1/TN treaty professional visas processed in the United States rather than at an American consular post or preflight inspection unit abroad.

Fees for the Form I-140 used for EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 employment-based immigrant visas were increased to $700 from $580.

One of the highest increases is for the Form I-526 required for an EB-5 immigrant investor creating at least ten jobs for American workers. Form I-526 fee was increased to an outrageous $3,675 from $1,500.

Family-based immigration fees are better, with only a 27 percent increase, to $535 from $420, for the Form I-130 used by US citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor certain close relatives to immigrate. The Form I-485 required for immigrants who process through the USCIS instead of an American consular post abroad was increased only slightly, to $1,140 from $985.

For a full list of the new fees please visit the USCIS website.

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USCIS fee changes, effective December 23, 2016

Employment Authorization for H-4 Spouses

twopassports

Effective May 26, 2015, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS) will begin to issue Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) to qualified H-4 visa status spouses of H-1B temporary worker visa holders.  This new permission to work in the US will not require a sponsoring US employer and will not be limited to any specific type of work.

To qualify, applicants will need to show that:

1.  They are maintaining H-4 visa status in the US;

2.  They are the spouse of someone maintaining H-1B visa status; and

3.  Their H-1B spouse either:

a.  is the principal beneficiary of an approved Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker; or

b.  has been granted H-1B status under sections 106(a) and (b) of the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-first Century Act of 2000 as amended by the 21st Century Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act (AC21).

AC21’s Section 106(a) authorizes H-1B status beyond the normal 6 year limit to beneficiaries of an employment-based immigrant petition or an application for adjustment of status to permanent resident.  Section 106(b) provides those same benefits to individuals with an alien employment certification or employment-based immigrant petition pending before the Department of Labor or USCIS for more than 365 days.

To obtain employment authorization, the H-4 spouses will apply to the USCIS on Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with supporting evidence and pay the government’s $380 fee.  The USCIS will begin accepting applications on May 26, 2015 and the press release instructs not to file before that date.  The H-4 spouse is authorized to work in the US only after receipt of the EAD.  USCIS processing times vary, but is typically about 90 days.

Although the USCIS estimates that this new rule will grant employment authorization to a large number of H-4 visa holders, many more H-4 spouses are not eligible due to the third requirement listed above. Although the press release touts how the change will support the US economy and bring US immigration policies more in line with the laws of other countries that compete to attract similar highly skilled workers, this rule is in fact more restrictive than many competing countries and not as generous as even the EAD rules for spouses on E-1, E-2 and L-2 visa status.

The full text of the USCIS press release can be found here.

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Employment Authorization for H-4 Spouses