The cost of the first step toward becoming a U.S. citizen — getting a green card — may be going up. But the Obama administration won't be raising the price to apply for full-fledged citizenship.
The administration has proposed increasing the application fee for a green card — given to foreigners with permission to live and work in the U.S. permanently — from $930 to $985. The fee for required fingerprinting also would go up $5 to $85, for a total of $1,070.
Foreigners wanting to become a U.S. citizen must have held a green card for five years before they are eligible to apply for citizenship, which costs $595 plus the fingerprinting fee. The administration is not proposing an increase in the citizenship application fee even though an administration study found the fee should be increased as much as $60 an application — to cover the full cost of processing those applications.
"Requesting and obtaining U.S. citizenship deserves special consideration," said Ali Mayorkas, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Homeland Security Department.
The increases are being proposed as Congress has put off overhauling immigration laws that President Barack Obama promised would be done in his first year in office.
Fees to make up part of gap
Mayorkas said the increases are needed because his agency is facing $2.3 billion in estimated costs to process immigration-related applications. The agency expects just $2.1 billion in revenue this fiscal year to cover those costs.
The fee increases, if approved, are only expected to make up some of the revenue gap. Mayorkas also is asking for $248 million from Congress for the 2011 fiscal year that begins in October and additional money to cover naturalizations of military personnel. The agency is largely funded by fee revenue and is required by law to study the fees every two years and adjust them based on costs and revenue.
Mayorkas said the administration has been "mindful of the effect of a fee increase on the communities we serve" and has made budget cuts to limit the size of the increases.
The agency hiked fees in the summer of 2007, helping to trigger a flood of citizenship applications that were filed in advance of the increases. But since then, applications for citizenship and other immigration benefits have slowed.
The agency proposed to charge fees for three other programs that previously had no charge, including a new $6,230 fee for investor visas, known as EB-5. The visas are given to foreign investors who pledge at least $500,000 to a project that creates jobs. The visa is popular with Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that oversees immigration issues.
Fees would drop for five applications, including petitions to legally bring a fiance or fiancee or an orphan to the U.S.
Obama had promised during his campaign to work on the citizenship system to make it cheaper and faster. As a senator, he sponsored legislation with Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez calling for more oversight of immigration application fees. The bill stalled.
The public will have 45 days to comment on the proposed fee increases after they are published in Thursday's Federal Register.