Immigration Fee Hikes Not Providing More Revenue

Immigration fee hikes not providing more revenue

By Suzanne Gamboa
The Associated Press, September 14, 2009

Washington, DC (AP) — The government has collected hundreds of millions of dollars less than it thought it would from fee increases imposed two years ago on applications for citizenship and other immigration-related services.

The increases were supposed to generate an additional $1 billion in revenue for Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Homeland Security Department. Based on that, the agency predicted it would collect $2.33 billion in fees in this fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, but is expecting to come up about $282 million short of that prediction.

Agency officials blamed the shortfall on an overall drop in immigration-related applications being filed, possibly as a result of the ongoing economic slump. The agency has twice adjusted its estimated number of applications and the amount of revenue they would bring in. Immigration officials also are cutting back on some spending, looking to Congress for some relief, and is studying the fee structure as required every two years.

'Given the current economic climate, we anticipate that the current filing trend will continue. We will therefore continue to make the necessary adjustments while remaining dedicated to delivering on our public service mission,' Alejandro Mayorkas, who took over as the agency's director in August, told The Associated Press on Monday.

The House Appropriations Committee also said immigration application filings are expected to remain down in 2010, and the agency's costs will far exceed fee revenue. A report attached to the 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bill said lawmakers 'cannot, in good conscience,' allow CIS to spend beyond its projected revenue from the fees.

Under the 2007 fee increases, the cost of applying for citizenship doubled to $595, plus an $80 fingerprinting fee. The cost of applying for legal permanent residency tripled to $905 plus the fingerprinting fee.

Mayorkas said his agency has made progress on cutting application times. As of this July the average processing time for citizenship applications was 4.5 months, lower than the five to seven months goal the agency set when it raised fees. Applications for legal residency were taking about 6.2 months on average, slightly more than the fee increase goal of four to six months.

Mayorkas declined to discuss details of the fee review. President Barack Obama has said his administration would improve the immigration system to make it cheaper and faster.

The agency was flooded with a record 7.7 million immigration applications in 2007 as filers tried to beat the fee increase. Applications dropped off after the spike, as they have historically with other fee increases. But they have not returned to levels before the increase.

The agency had asked Congress for $206 million to pay for fees for asylum seekers and refugees as well as military naturalizations. Those costs are usually waived and included in the fees paid by other applicants.

The Homeland Security Department spending bill approved by the House provides $100 million for the waived fees. The Senate provided $5 million. Lawmakers are negotiating a compromise spending bill.

The application drop does not leave the agency without money. The spike in 2007 brought in millions in fees. About 1,500 people were hired using the money. Congress is proposing to provide $112 million to pay for E-Verify, the Web-based system employers can use to check whether their employees can legally work in the U.S.