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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The cost of US citizenship is about to rise

The cost of applying for U.S. citizenship is about to rise. More than 9 million legal permanent residents in the United States are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship but haven’t done so, according to the Office of Homeland Security Statistics. On April 1, the cost of the application to naturalize is climbing as much as 19%. The price of getting a "green card" – the first step to citizenship – will jump, too. The changes are a fraction of the fee increases sought by the Trump administration before a federal judge scrapped them. Still, immigration attorneys say, immigration costs almost always trend higher, so those who want to naturalize for less should consider submitting an application before April 1. Here’s what to know about the fee increases. More:Can the US handle more immigration? History and the Census suggest the answer is yes. How much does U.S. citizenship cost? The costs vary. The naturalization application form, called an N-400, now costs $640 when filing a paper application or $725 including the fingerprint fee, called "biometrics." On April 1, the cost of both jumps to $760. A fee table published in the Federal Register shows the new price of immigration benefits. The price increase is far less than what the Trump administration tried to impose. In 2020, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services bumped the fee for naturalization more than 80% to $1,170 and ended the fee waiver for vulnerable people, including asylum-seekers. Immigrant rights groups sued and a federal judge prevented the new rules from taking effect, saying the agency violated the law by failing to provide adequate notice and an opportunity for public comment. For those seeking an adjustment of status from a tourist visa to legal permanent residency, the price increase is significant, said Xiao Wang, chief executive of Boundless Immigration, which provides immigration services. That "green card" packet requires at least four forms for most applicants, and certain fees are waived when they are submitted together under current guidelines. After April 1, the price of pursuing legal permanent residency will jump from $1,760 to $3,005, he said. The new guidelines also expand the universe of people eligible for a discount. Those who earn below 400% of the federal poverty guideline can access the reduced rate instead of only those who earned below 200% of the poverty guideline. But the discounted rate is going up, too: from $320 to $380. The cost increase may be less than the citizenship and immigration agency's attempt to boost fees, but it can still be a burden for families when more than one family member wants to naturalize and each has to pay a separate application fee. "You have a multiplier, and it adds up quite a bit," said Hector Quiroga, an immigration attorney who represents farmworkers in Spokane, Washington, and Las Vegas. "There are many people who simply can’t afford it." Also, applying for U.S. citizenship doesn’t guarantee that the citizenship services agency will approve the application, and fees are nonrefundable. Will wait times and customer service improve? The agency is adjusting fees to a variety of applications, including raising some and lowering others, "to fully recover costs and maintain adequate service," according to the announcement in the Federal Register. Fees haven't gone up since 2016. Wang said it would make more sense to tie fee increases to inflation "so that we’re not in a world where there is significant time that passes and then there is a big jump." The citizenship services agency is primarily funded by the fees charged to applicants and petitioners for immigration benefits and doesn't receive regular congressional appropriations. At the same time, the agency has faced a surging workload amid high levels of immigration to the U.S. The agency received nearly 11 million applications for benefits in fiscal 2023, a record. The fees also help cover the costs of services that are provided free of charge to refugees, asylum-seekers and certain other vulnerable classes of immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security said. New U.S. citizens register to vote Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, with the help of members of the League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford after a naturalization ceremony in Rockford, Illinois. The American Immigration Lawyers Association urged that the fee increases be used to help improve the agency’s lengthy processing times and opaque customer service. "We understand there is a need to increase the fees," said Shev Dalal-Dheini, the association's senior director for government relations. "What we want to see in response is a reduction in the processing times, the backlog and more efficiency from the agency in adjudicating cases." How long does it take to become a U.S. citizen? The immigration services agency said it delivered a citizenship oath of allegiance to more than 878,500 people in fiscal 2023 and reduced the average wait time for naturalization from 10½ months to six months. But first it can take months or years to obtain the necessary prerequisite: legal permanent residency, sometimes called a green card. Legal permanent residents become eligible to apply for citizenship after three to five years, depending on who is applying. Wait times for naturalization applications also vary across the country according to the citizenship agency's online case processing tool. The wait ranges from five months in Cleveland to seven months in Boston, Los Angeles and Houston to eight months in Minneapolis and Kansas City. There are additional requirements beyond the N-400 application. Applicants must prove the length of their residency; show they haven’t lived outside the United States for a prolonged period; and demonstrate what the agency calls “good moral character.” That means “you did not have certain types of crimes – such as murder, illegal gambling, or intentionally lying to the U.S. government in order to gain immigration benefits – on your record at any time before filing, and you did not lie during your naturalization interview,” according to Boundless Immigration, an agency that offers immigration services. Some applicants must also pass an English language test and a civics exam. If I apply for U.S. citizenship, how soon can I vote? For applicants lucky enough to see their cases adjudicated in fewer than six months, there may still be time to register to vote in the 2024 presidential election, Dalal-Dheini said. Mary Orji was among 20 new U.S. citizens naturalized on June 14, 2023 in New York City aboard the 1885 Tall Ship Wavertree. Voter registration rules vary state by state. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., allow same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of Legislatures. Many immigrants weigh a variety of factors before applying for U.S. citizenship, including whether their home country requires them to renounce citizenship or whether acquiring dual citizenship results in tax or other financial penalties back home. Still, Quiroga said, he recommends clients "advance their legal position as much as possible." At a time of heightened rhetoric around immigration – when politicians are questioning the foundational norms, including birthright citizenship – the rules of the game could change at any time, he said. Dalal-Dheini echoed the advice. "We have seen the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric," she said. "To ensure that an individual’s status is secure, the best remedy is to become a citizen." For more information, visit us at https://www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com/.

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