Be a Fee Waiver Warrior: Don’t let USCIS make it so only wealthy immigrants can pursue the American Dream
USCIS announced on Oct. 25 its plans to eliminate means-tested benefit as a criterion to apply for a filing fee waiver by issuing a new Form I-912 that went into effect on Dec. 2, 2019. However, on Dec. 9, 2019, a judge in the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction, halting USCIS’ implementation of these plans. This means that USCIS must continue to accept filing fee waivers based upon the receipt of a means-tested benefit for now.
Additional information will be posted on this page and distributed through CLINIC’s Agency Updates listserv as it becomes available. Sign up for CLINIC listservs here and check back on this page often.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, has attempted to implement major changes that would make it extremely difficult for hard-working immigrants to become U.S. citizens, renew their greencards, and apply for work authorization. On Oct. 25, 2019, USCIS announced that it was moving forward with its plan to reduce access to these critical immigration benefits. 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 has sought to narrow the criteria that determines who can qualify for a fee waiver when applying for an immigration benefit, such as naturalization. Until recently, 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 has sought to eliminate the receipt of a means-tested benefit from the eligibility criteria, and require applicants to undergo 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’ fee waiver policy has acknowledged that low-income immigrants are unable to afford increasing government filing fees. For example, the fee for naturalization has increased more than 650 percent in the last 20 years, and currently stands at $725. USCIS has proposed to increase this fee 83 percent, raising it to above $1,000 for the first time ever. 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. USCIS also seeks to terminate fee waivers for most benefits, unless they are specifically required by law. You can find more information and resources on how to oppose USCIS’ proposed changes to its fee schedule and general fee waiver availability at our Fee Schedule Fighters webpage.
CLINIC opposes USCIS’ proposals to limit access to immigration benefits. We hope that you will join us in speaking out against policies to prevent the administrationit 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.
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.
Review these instructions to see a visual how-to guide for submitting a public comment on regulations.gov.
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.
Federal Judge Grants Nationwide Injunction in CLINIC Lawsuit, Preserves Fee Waivers Pending Litigation
CLINIC and other plaintiffs filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), certain DHS officers, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), seeking to enjoin the implementation of fee waiver changes. On Dec. 11, 2019, the Honorable Maxine M. Chesney, a District Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, granted the nationwide injunction, preventing USCIS from putting its proposed fee waiver changes into effect pending litigation.