US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is considering changing the eligibility for lower-income immigrants for fee waivers on applications for US citizenship and legal permanent residency, a move that has been slammed by immigration advocates. USCIS announced the change in the Federal Register on Friday.
The proposal states that the receipt of means-tested public benefit from any of the states will no longer automatically result in waivers for USCIS fees, which will now be linked to just two criteria – either the federal poverty threshold or specific financial difficulties. USCIS says that the change is required because eligibility for such benefits currently varies between different states, depending on their income level guidelines. It means that some people have been given fee waivers who would not otherwise have qualified.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services approved as many as 285,009 fee waiver applications last year, making for a total of $173 million. The new proposal would restrict waivers to applicants on or below 150% of the current federal poverty threshold or who have suffered financial hardship. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s advocacy director, Jill Marie Bussey, says the change is a significant reduction likely to decrease the number of immigrants eligible for the waiver by as much as two thirds.
The majority of USCIS funding comes from fees rather than from taxpayers, and those fees often run into the thousands. The proposed change will be open for public comment until 27 November.