Applying for Citizenship: Do You Qualify for a USCIS Fee Waiver?

US citizenship and immigration services
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services with U.S. flag

When applying for citizenship, some people may qualify for a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fee waiver. This can help significantly reduce the application filing price, which is normally $725.

As of December 2, 2019, a new policy is in effect that makes changes to the qualifications for an application fee waiver. Now, the fee only applies to individuals applying for citizenship, work permits, certain types of green cards, and various other benefits.

Requirements for the New Immigration Services Policy Change

With the new changes implemented, individuals will only be permitted to request a waiver if they are able to prove that their yearly household income is at or lower than 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or if they can prove that they’re experiencing financial difficulties with other documentation.

The two other alternatives are more of a challenge to prove when applying, with the need for applicants to provide plenty of documentation, oftentimes with the help of an immigration attorney. The biggest problem with these more stringent requirements is that USCIS would be required to spend even more time reviewing these documents, resulting in even more delays in immigration cases.

In addition to more documentation, filing fees may increase to the point of becoming unaffordable for many applicants, including low-income immigrants, families filing more than one application at once, and the elderly. The increasing limitations for fee waivers may also deter many from applying for benefits entirely, including citizenship.

The Trump Administration’s Changes to Legal Immigration

The new changes are the result of one of the many changes the Trump administration has implemented against legal immigration.

This change to the policy for fee waivers came soon after multiple federal courts struck down the Trump administration’s public charge rule, which would have enabled the government to more easily deny green cards to immigrations who seemed likely to receive specific types of public benefits in the future such as non-cash benefits, including food stamps and Medicaid. Many criticized the rule as something akin to a “wealth test” for immigrants who wished to live in the U.S.

Ultimately, the new policy makes it more difficult for people to navigate the immigration system, so it’s important for applicants to determine if they qualify for a USCIS fee waiver. 

Act Now: Immigration Fees Set to Skyrocket

increasing trend
A growing line chart

Higher immigration fees are on the way and advocates and experts are urging immigrants to act fast to avoid the hikes. USCIS reviews its fees every two years and fee increases are nothing new. However, proposed fees for green cards and citizenship applications this year are historically high.

Recent Reviews of the USCIS Fees

The Department of Homeland Security conducts reviews of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fees to ensure that costs don’t exceed income. The latest review saw significant increases in the proposed fees for most common types of applications for immigration. The cost for an ordinary citizenship application, for instance, could rise as much as 83% from $640 to $1,170. The cost of a green card could skyrocket to $2,750.

Overall, prices for all types of applications could see an increase of around twenty percent. However, the individuals who will suffer from these prices the most will be ordinary people who wish to apply for benefits, the reasons for which are still unclear, while businesses will have to pay much smaller fees.

The new changes would also require individuals applying for asylum in the U.S. to pay a fee for the first time in the nation’s history. They will also need to pay $490 to receive a work permit, even if they haven’t earned any income yet from working legally in the U.S.

What Is the Reason for the Changes?

According to USCIS’s report, there are three main reasons for the new changes and increasing fees. These include:

  • The transfer of funding to ICE from USCIS through fees for green card applications, which are used to cover immigration enforcement costs such as detention and removal.
  • Increased income for current USCIS staff and future employees.
  • The higher cost of vetting and administrative overhead.

Despite these reasons listed in the USCIS report, the increases seem to be unusually high considering the fees already increased in 2017 by twenty percent when the USCIS budget was around $3.3 billion, while the projected costs for 2020 will be around $4.6 billion. As costs continue to rise for applicants, the USCIS has slowed the application review process, as year-long backlogs are far from unusual.

These increased costs can be detrimental to many applicants who wish to live and work in the U.S. With these upcoming changes in mind, immigrants are advised to act fast to avoid getting hit with these costs.

Embracing Immigrant Talent in the US

employee application papers
Three employees’ profile paper

Embracing immigrant talent can help drive innovation and grow the economy in the United States. Many businesses are struggling to find the right employees in a variety of industries, but immigrant workers can fill this gap.

The Importance of Acquiring Talent Through Immigration

There’s no shortage of talent all over the world, and many skilled immigrants are looking for work in the United States. A recent Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) paper discussed the integral role that immigration plays in encouraging economic growth and increased productivity in the workplace, along with many businesses’ failure to embrace this talent.

The authors of the paper found that “nations that prioritize its development, its attraction, its retention, and its movement across borders will be best positioned to compete.” With so many technological developments available to businesses today, the greatest advantage for a business will be to have the best talent and reliable employees.

The GMAC paper combines business school application data gathered in their Application Trends Survey Report 2019 and data collected from the U.S., U.K., Canada, India, and China. Collectively, this data enables researchers to more accurately understand how immigration and business schools influence talent acquisition and development.

GMAC Board Chair and Dean of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Bill Boulding, stated that business schools are in a unique position to determine just how the mobility of talent influences the economy as well as vitality, and as talent developers, experts at GMAC possess nearly real-time data that details new trends regarding the locations where talent is traveling. “We feel it is critical we share this information now with policymakers around the world as talent will be the most important factor in determining who wins and loses economically in the future,” Boulding explained.

How to Improve Talent Acquisition

Some policymakers are proposing U.S.-based policy reforms that are intended to help improve the talent gap. These policy reforms include the removal of certain countries’ current visa caps and making drastic reformations to the H-1B visa program to give foreign talent a better chance of gaining entry into the U.S. These policy reforms also include an effort to make the immigration process easier for individuals to understand and navigate.

There are many facts that support the GMAC paper’s argument for reforming immigration policies, including data such as the number of non-native Ph.D. students in the U.S., the fact that one in three U.S. Nobel Prize laureates in the sciences were immigrants, and the number of U.S. immigrant startup founders. The paper reveals that while only around 15 percent of the workforce is comprised of immigrants, these immigrants make up nearly one-fourth of all inventors and entrepreneurs.

Unfortunately, immigrants still find it challenging to move to another country, from acquiring their visa to looking for a home, transferring bank accounts, and registering as taxpayers. It’s also a time-consuming process, involving finding a sponsor and the potential delay between starting a new job at a new company and receiving the first paycheck.

To help eliminate the issue of delayed payments and the burden of moving, GMAC intends to assist with financing and the general logistics of the move, from purchasing flight tickets to covering the initial rent payments, among other expenses. In turn, as the immigrant begins earning more income at his or her job, he or she can begin to pay back what they owe.

How Immigration of Talent Impacts the Community

If high-value immigrant employees are able to travel freely to reach their full potential, this could largely benefit the global community in addition to the host community.

At the same time, there are some valid concerns regarding immigration and the various challenges around integration. However, author William Kerr in The Gift of Global Talent makes it clear that as many discuss the issue of global talent as it relates to illegal immigration, there are many nuances and aspects to consider when it comes to skilled students and immigrants.

One big concern has to do with inequality within certain regions. There’s an understandable worry that while large countries and cities thrive because of larger populations, smaller communities may lose to big-city opportunities. This makes it important for policymakers to avoid neglecting these smaller towns and regions.

The GMAC paper states that while hiring global talent is important for success, it’s also important to invest in local talent. Working with both local and immigrant talent can help prevent the need to relocate to where talent is and ensure that those smaller communities aren’t ignored.

Ultimately, immigration will continue to play a vital part in helping startups establish themselves throughout the U.S., whether in a smaller community or a large city, which makes it important for businesses to do what they can to embrace foreign talent willing to relocate to the U.S.

What to Expect at Your Naturalization Oath Ceremony

Judge and a man
A man standing in front of a judge at a courtroom

At the Naturalization Oath Ceremony, immigrants who have received approval for their Application for Naturalization (Form N-400), taken an English and Civics test, and passed their citizenship interview will recite the Oath of Allegiance before a USCIS official to become American citizens. After taking the oath, people will receive the Certificate of Naturalization, which serves as proof of U.S. citizenship.

What Is a Naturalization Oath Ceremony?

The Naturalization oath ceremony is the final step in becoming a U.S. citizen. A tradition that dates back to the 18th century, attending this formal ceremony and reciting the Oath of Allegiance is mandatory for all naturalization applicants.

Where and When Does the Citizenship Ceremony Take Place?

Depending on the schedule for the individual’s district, the ceremony could take place anywhere from the same day as the interview to several months later.

The ceremony can take place in a courtroom or a smaller room in a state or federal building, or in a convention center or stadium. On some occasions, these ceremonies take place at historical landmarks such as the U.S.S. Constitution. Regardless of where the ceremony occurs, wearing the appropriate attire is advised, including suits, dresses, or other formal wear.

Citizenship applicants are required to attend the ceremony unless they request to reschedule and provide a specific reason for their inability to attend. Arriving about an hour before the ceremony is advised. This gives applicants ample time to check in with a USCIS officer who will ensure eligibility and collect all required documents.

Documents Required for the Ceremony

Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony will provide immigrants with a list of what to bring to the ceremony. The list may include:

After taking the Oath of Allegiance, the person will receive his or her Certificate of Naturalization. The certificate serves as proof of United States Citizenship.  If the individual has chosen to undergo a name change, the new name will appear on the naturalization certificate.  Once received, individuals can use this certificate to vote in local, state, and national elections and apply for U.S. passports, driver’s licenses and social security cards.

Here’s What the Trump Administration Has in Store for Immigration

know the rules on paper
A man is writing “know the rules” on a paper

The Trump administration plans to establish far-reaching immigration regulations that could have a major impact on international students, employers, L-1 and H-1B visa holders, asylum seekers, and EB-5 investors. Details about the plans are available to the public in the Unified Agenda for the Department of Homeland Security.

How New Regulations Could Impact H-1B Visas

Under the Trump administration, there has already been an increase in denial rates for H-1B petitions. The proposed changes would present even more challenges for foreign nationals and employers. Under the new rule, the definition of “specialty occupation” would be revised to “focus on obtaining the best and brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B program.” The definitions of “employment” and “employer-employee relationship” would also be revised to strengthen worker protections. The Department of Homeland Security would propose additional requirements to ensure appropriate wages are paid to H-1B visa holders.

The rule may also defend the administration against lawsuits from organizations arguing that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act by avoiding the rulemaking process when performing certain actions on H-1B petitions.

New Rule for L-1 Visas

The USCIS also plans to add further restrictions to the L-1 visa, even though the Trump administration has already made it difficult for L-1 visa applicants to receive approval at American consulates in India and China when moving employees to the United States. Denial rates are extraordinarily high for L-1B petitions, which are used for employees who have what is considered “specialized knowledge.”

Rules for International Students, Unlawful Presence, and OPT

The Trump administration’s new regulations are likely to keep international students from seeking education in the U.S. The administration plans to continue to focus on Optional Practical Training. The OPT program enables international students to work for a year after graduating. Graduates in technology, math (STEM), engineering, and science fields are allowed an additional 24 months.

USCIS also plans to propose another rule, “Enhancing the Integrity of the Unlawful Presence Inadmissibility Provisions,” which is likely a response to the U.S. District Court blocking USCIS policy memos in 2018 that could bar international students unknowingly violating their immigration status from entering the U.S. for 10 years.