The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”) has announced that effective February 1, 2013, USCIS will begin collecting an additional USCIS Immigrant Fee of $165.00 from foreign nationals seeking admission as permanent residents to the U.S. The fee will apply to immigrant visa applicants who have received their visa approval from a U.S. Consulate abroad and must be paid directly to the U.S. before the immigrants (and their families) travel to the U.S. for the first time as immigrants.
What is the USCIS Immigrant Fee?
In its press release, USCIS explains that the fee was established by the September 24, 2010 fee change rule (last time the fees were revised in a substantial manner) and will is being introduced now after collaboration between USCIS and the Department of State (“DOS”) on how to best collect the fee without disrupting the existing procedures. The fee is imposed to recover the costs of processing immigrant visas in the United States after immigrant visa holders receive their visa packages from DOS. This includes staff time to handle, file and maintain the immigrant visa package, and the cost of producing and delivering the permanent resident card. See Federal Register notice.
It is important to understand that this fee is in addition to the fees already collected by USCIS and DOS (via the National Visa Center).
How Should the New Fee be Paid?
The new fee will have to be paid online through USCIS website after immigrant visa applicants receive their visa package from DOS (usually the U.S. Consulate) and before they depart to the U.S. DOS will be providing such applicants with specific information on how to submit payment when they attend their consular interview. Acceptable methods of payment would be checking account information or debit/credit card, drawn on U.S. funds.
Who is Affected by the New Fee?
All immigrant visa applicants who process their immigrant visas through a U.S. Consulate abroad (including Canada and Mexico) will be required to pay the new fee, starting February 1, 2013. USCIS processes approximately 36,000 immigrant visa packages (green card “activations”) each month. Please note that permanent residency applicants who process their green cards from within the U.S. will not have to pay the new fee — for example, I-485 applicants to adjust status from within the U.S. will not have to pay the fee. Also, prospective adoptive parents whose child will enter the United States under the Orphan or Hague processes are exempt from the new fee.
What Happens If the Fee is Not Paid?
The applicant will not receive a green card until the required USCIS Immigrant fee is paid. However, failure to pay does not affect the lawful status of the applicant. While the applicant can use their Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Form I-94, Arrival and Departure Record, for one year to document they are a lawful permanent resident, once that I-94 stamp expires, the applicant will need to possess a green card as evidence of their lawful permanent resident status.
We are hopeful that USCIS and DOS will establish a clear process to inform applicants, especially those who are currently undergoing their immigrant process, of the new requirement to pay the fee before the green card is produced. Our office will continue to monitor this new fee and related procedures and provide updates. Please feel free to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to obtain developments on this and related topics. If our office can be of any help, please feel free to contact us.