More low-income workers and families will soon be able to apply for a partial fee waiver for naturalization costs, making it easier for them to apply for citizenship, the Department of Homeland Security announced.
Earlier this week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) published a proposed rule to adjust the immigration and naturalization fee schedule for the first time since 2010. Fees will increase for dozens of application forms so that USCIS can recover the cost of all of its activities.
The agency is making important concessions regarding the naturalization fee. First, it is increasing the fee by a smaller amount (8 percent) than the “weighted average” for all fees that will be increased (21 percent). The naturalization fee will increase from $595 to $640, plus the $85 biometric services fee, which is not being increased. The lesser increase in the naturalization fee is consistent with USCIS’s determination that the act of requesting and obtaining U.S. citizenship deserves special consideration.
Second, for the first time, USCIS will offer a partial fee waiver for naturalization applicants with household incomes of between 150 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For a family of four in the lower 48 states, the proposed partial fee waiver would apply to applicants in households earning between $36,450 and $48,600, according to the current federal poverty guidelines. For these applicants, the naturalization fee will be $320 — a 50 percent reduction, not including the biometric fee.
USCIS cites independent research showing that the cost of applying for naturalization may act as a barrier to citizenship for some low-income immigrants. In the preamble to the proposed rule, USCIS writes that the reduced fee will help ensure that naturalization applicants are not unnecessarily limited by their economic means. New Americans Campaign partners, as well as the Naturalization Working Group, have long advocated for a reduction in the naturalization fee for low-income applicants who do not qualify for a complete fee waiver.
Finally, the proposed rule continues the availability of a complete fee waiver for applicants with household incomes below 150 percent of the poverty level.
“This new fee waiver policy is a big step in the right direction,” said Melissa Rodgers of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, director of the New Americans Campaign. “It will allow more low-income, citizenship-eligible green card holders to take the critical next step to become U.S. citizens. New Americans Campaign partners have fought hard to make citizenship more accessible to all and we celebrate this announcement.”
“However, the proposed increase to the application fee will make it harder for many individuals and families who are deeply committed to our country and want to become U.S. citizens but don’t qualify for the partial fee waiver. For them, the barrier that is the cost of citizenship will loom larger. We continue to believe that more can and should be done to make citizenship accessible for our country’s nearly nine million green card holders eligible to become new Americans today. In communities across the U.S., the New Americans Campaign will continue to help make greater access a reality.”
Written comments to the proposed fees must be submitted by July 5, 2016. The proposed rule and supporting documents, including a proposed new form for requesting the partial fee waiver, can be obtained online by typing “USCIS-2016-0001” into the search box. The Naturalization Working Group will submit its comments on the proposed fees for naturalization.