Citizen Application Fees Could Nearly Double

The cost of applying to become a United States citizen could soon nearly double under a proposal by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the fee increase is meant to improve service at the agency, but critics say it will hit immigrants the hardest.

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For many immigrants seeking US citizenship, the current fees are already hard enough to afford, with an application for naturalization costing $330. Under the USCIS proposal, those fees would jump to $595, a increase that some say will slow the process for many immigrants eligible for citizenship, including 50,000 in Harris County. Adriana Cadena is with the Houston chapter of the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials.

"It may be where if there's a family of four that wants to apply they have to decide who's going to apply first, save up that money and then decide, so it's a longer term process and it really sort of creates that situation that people have to wait longer and longer in order become United States citizens."

An addition to the naturalization fee increase, the cost to apply for permanent legal residency would jump from $325 to $905, although immigrants would not longer have to pay extra fees if the process takes longer than expected. If approved, the fees could take effect in October. Houston city councilwoman Carol Alvarado says now is not the time to make it more expensive to become a U.S. citizen.

"This is a slap in the face to the immigrant community to have such a drastic increase I think sends the wrong message. I think it's going to hinder people's ability to be able to afford the application process. We've seen in the past from the mid 90's up until today, that a spike in the fee certainly has an impact on the number that apply for citizenship."

The fee increase could raise almost $1 billion for USCIS, which says it needs the money to streamline application processing systems that currently struggle to keep-up with demand. The agency's Maria Garcia-Upson says the extra costs don't mean the agency is trying to make things harder for immigrants.

"What we want to do is we want to deliver the quality of service that the applicant deserves, which currently we are unable to do. Inflation, after 9-11, our world changed. We're doing a lot more security checks than we were before 9-11. All those things add up. It costs money."

Garcia-Upson says it's unfair to ask applicants to wait months and sometimes years to get answers on their applications. She says with money from the new fee structure, many of those answers will come far more quickly.

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