USCIS announced on Oct. 25 that it will implement its proposed change to eliminate means-tested benefit as a criteria to apply for a fee waiver on Form I-912. The new form will be effective as of Dec. 2, 2019. Additional information will be posted on this page and distributed through CLINIC’s Agency Updates listserve as it becomes available. Sign up for CLINIC listserves here and check back on this page often.
Last fall, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, proposed major changes that would make it extremely difficult for hard-working immigrants to become U.S. citizens. On April 5, 2019, USCIS announced its next steps towards advancing that plan. If implemented, these changes hurt us all. Studies show that low-income immigrants are able to improve their financial status through naturalization with access to better jobs, educational opportunities and resources.
Specifically, USCIS proposes to narrow the criteria that determines who can qualify for a fee waiver when applying for an immigration benefit, such as naturalization. Currently, the most common and straightforward way in which a person can establish that they qualify for a USCIS fee waiver is by showing that they receive a means-tested benefit. Means-tested benefits are available to people whose incomes are below a certain threshold so they require the recipient to establish their income levels. For example, Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, or non-emergency Medicaid.
USCIS’ proposal would eliminate the receipt of a means-tested benefit from the eligibility criteria, and require these applicants to go through a lengthy and difficult process to re-document that they are low-income instead. By our estimates, this would affect approximately two-thirds of all fee waiver applicants. The two remaining alternatives left for applicants to apply for fee waivers would require extensive documentation that USCIS would have to review and process, causing inefficiency for an already overburdened system.
The Catholic Church has a well-documented tradition in pursuit of the common good and care for “the least of these” (Mt. 25). Historically, USCIS’s fee waiver policy has acknowledged that low-income immigrants are unable to afford increasing government filling fees. For example, the fee for naturalization has increased more than 650 percent in the last 20 years, and currently stands at $725. Filing fee waivers are currently available for over two dozen form types, including citizenship and naturalization, work authorization, green card renewals, and certain humanitarian and survivor-based benefits.
CLINIC opposes the USCIS proposal. We need your help to prevent it from placing the American Dream out of reach for so many hard working immigrants. We are called to stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters who wish to take this final step in their immigrant journey.
Outreach to the Administration:
On May 3, CLINIC submitted a public comment opposing USCIS’ proposed changes to fee waivers, including elimination of the means-tested benefit criterion. In the comment, CLINIC describes how the proposed changes will add burden and inefficiency at all levels, including on individuals, legal service providers, and on USCIS itself.
On November 27, 2018, CLINIC and other members of the Naturalization Working Group delivered a letter to Samantha Deshommes, Chief of USCIS’s Regulatory Coordination Division, opposing the proposal to change the Fee Waiver form and guidance to stop accepting receipt of a means-tested benefit as evidence of qualification for a fee waivers. The letter calls on USCIS to withdraw the proposed changes and maintain the current Fee Waiver form and guidance.
CLINIC is among hundreds of organizations and individuals that submitted comments in response to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ proposed revision entitled “Agency Information Collection Activities; Form I-912; Request for Individual Fee Waiver.”
Why this matters:
A U.S. citizen can sponsor a wider number of family members to come to the U.S. and the waiting time for them to receive a visa is faster than for the relatives of permanent residents.
CLINIC has developed guidance to help you draft a public comment in response to the administration’s proposal to eliminate the receipt of a means-tested benefit from the eligibility criteria for USCIS fee waivers.
This guide provides an overview of the federal rulemaking process and information about how you can participate. Engaging in administrative advocacy ensures that we are using all avenues to fight for immigrants and will more effectively amplify our collective voice.