Top 5 Ways to Reform the Immigration Service

Yesterday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposed a “new fee structure” to fund a modernized immigration service. Of course, in governmentspeak, a new fee structure can only mean higher fees. 🙂

Actually, USCIS did propose waiving the current $270 fee for T Nonimmigrant Status applicants, who are victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons. However, other than that, the proposed fees for all other applications are higher than the current fees.

With the new fee structure, USCIS contends that it will be able to improve its facilities, upgrade its data systems, expand online services and reduce application processing times.

In the table below, I have itemized some of the changes for the more popular immigration application forms.

Form No. Description Current Fee Proposed Fee Difference ($) Difference (%)
I-90 Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card $190 $290 $100 53%
I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker $190 $320 $130 68%
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative $190 $355 $165 87%
I-131 Application for Travel Document $170 $305 $135 79%
I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker $195 $475 $280 144%
I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status $325 $905 $580 178%
I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status $200 $300 $100 50%
I-751 Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence $205 $465 $260 127%
I-765 Application for Employment Authorization $180 $340 $160 89%
N-400 Application for Naturalization $330 $595 $265 80%

Predictably, some politicians and immigrant advocate groups have condemned the increased fees. I can understand some of their criticism because the only guaranteed aspect to this proposal is higher fees. Particularly, where government services are concerned, increased funding doesn’t necessarily result in better service.

So, I’m offering the USCIS five ways to win over their critics:

  1. Keep the Current Fee Structure. For those applicants who are satisfied with the current level of service provided by the USCIS, let them pay the existing price. If someone doesn’t mind waiting from six months to one year or longer, then reward their patience with the lower price.
  2. Offer Expedited Service for a Higher Fee. However, if an applicant wants to upgrade to a faster level of service, allow the applicant to pay an express processing fee. Some applicants will find a higher fee worth the expense if they know that their application will be processed within a 2–3 month timeframe. Currently, USCIS offers premium processing for Forms I-129 and I-140. Open premium processing to all applicants.
  3. Offer True Online Tracking for a Higher Fee. If FedEx can tell me the location of a package in transit, surely the USCIS can offer a more illuminating case status search than it currently offers. Right now, someone with a pending application may see the following cryptic message: “Case received and pending.” Really, this is pretty embarrassing. Pending could mean anything from your file is sitting in a queue behind 70,000 other files to someone is actively processing your application. Give the applicant some substantive information. How far along is the review process? And, whatever information that USCIS shares with the applicant humanizes the process immensely instead of making the applicant feel like they are dealing with an impenetrable bureaucracy.
  4. Offer Personal Estimated Completion Dates. The phone company offers its customers a 4 hour service window for repairs. FedEx offers an estimated arrival date for packages shipped through them. USCIS should offer applicants an estimated completion date. On the USCIS website, applicants can look up processing dates, but this is just general guidance that is not particular to an applicant’s individual case. USCIS should be able to calculate when a decision will be made based on where an application is in the queue and what items remain outstanding. A simple “USCIS will complete its review of your application within X weeks” will probably be a welcome gesture.
  5. Earn It or Return It. Back up a pledge of faster service with a money back guarantee. If USCIS cannot review an application within a promised timeframe, then return the premium processing fee. This then becomes a no-lose situation for applicants. If you’re going to charge a premium, then either earn it if you deliver or return it if you fail.