Immigration Fees and Turning Away Poor People

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The U.S. immigration system excludes almost all people who might want to immigrate here: there is no line to stand in. For those few who have a path to immigrate—usually because of family members who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, much less often because they qualify as refugees or asylum seekers or because an employer is willing to sponsor them—immigration is still costly. The official U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service lists fees, such as: 

  • N-400 Application for Naturalization $725
  • I-821D Application to Renew DACA (every two years) $495
  • N-565 Application to Replace Citizenship Document $555
  • I-90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card $540
  • I-130 Petition for Alien Relative $535
  • I-765 Application for Employment Authorization $410 (refugee or asylum seeker)
  • I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status $1,225

People who cannot afford to pay these fees may request a fee waiver for some (but not all) applications. Proving low income can be difficult and complicated, so USCIS has allowed a simpler way to show eligibility: applicants could qualify for a waiver if they receive means-tested benefits, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance of Needy Families. (Note: immigrants who are permanent legal residents must live here for five years before becoming eligible for these benefits.) People who do not receive means-tested benefits must show financial hardship in an application for a fee waiver, which usually means showing that household income is at or below 150% of U.S. poverty level at the time of application.

Now USCIS is  going to eliminate the easier way to show eligibility, which has been used by an estimated two-thirds of all fee waiver applicants. As of December 2, USCIS will no longer recognize receiving means-tested benefits as a way to demonstrate low income. 

That will mean a mountain of paperwork for applicants and for USCIS review, slowing down all applications as already-overloaded USCIS officers try to process fee waivers that include tax returns, pay stubs, affidavits, and other documents. 

Vox summarizes

“The policy change is one of many ways the Trump administration has recently sought to prevent low-income immigrants from entering and remaining in the US. And it reflects the philosophy that acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli once described, amending Emma Lazarus’s famous poem on the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet.’… 

“By eliminating waiver eligibility for immigrants using these benefits, the administration will instead force them to prove that they are facing financial hardship, which is a much more difficult process requiring substantial documentation and usually the help of an attorney.”

Just one more brick in the invisible wall keeping out legal immigrants.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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