Individuals, businesses, and organizations all around the world have experienced a massive impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many organizations have been struggling to manage the financial setbacks experienced in 2020, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is no different. Due to President Trump’s immigration ban, the suspension of family-based visa processing, and other travel restrictions, immigration to the United States has significantly decreased. Because USCIS is largely funded by filing fees, it has been struggling to cover operational costs.
In August 2020, USCIS was expecting to have to furlough 70% of its employees, which would have been around 13,000 individuals. This furlough would have led to a major increase in adjudication times, as USCIS would lack the manpower needed to keep up with the large number of immigration petitions. This news was disheartening for foreign nationals planning an EB-5 investment. However, the scheduled furlough was avoided due to the agency upping revenue and receipts and cutting spending. This news brought relief to EB-5 investors and other prospective immigrants alike.
In an attempt to increase funding and offset operating costs, USCIS announced in August 2020 plans to increase the filing fees of some petitions. The increase in fees was scheduled to take effect on October 2, 2020. The filing fees for form I-526 were set to increase by $335, and those for Form I-829 were set to increase by $150. Some petitions’ fees faced much larger spikes, like Form I-924, whose fees were set to increase by $1,430.
Increase in Fees Prevented
A district court ruling on September 29, 2020, prevented the increase in fees from taking place. Although this may appear to be good news for prospective EB-5 investors, it could result in an unfortunate outcome for USCIS employees and those planning a future EB5 investment. Joseph Edlow, USCIS Deputy Director of Policy, warned that this could have negative consequences on immigration in the United States. USCIS loses money each day that the fees are not increased, and this lack of funding could result in the furlough that was avoided in August 2020.
Because USCIS is largely funded by filing fees, every two years, the agency completes a review to see whether the fees need to be adjusted to adequately cover operating costs. Therefore, fee increases nothing out of the ordinary, and this time around, it’s smaller than they have been in the past. USCIS and overall immigration to the United States could be significantly marred if the increase in fees continues to be prevented.
The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 8337) was signed into law on September 30, 2020. Under this new legislation, USCIS is compelled to increase premium processing fees. The legislation also extended the EB-5 Regional Center Program. Although USCIS is able to add more premium fees, it is unknown as of October 19, 2020, whether the agency will choose to add any. Regardless, EB-5 investors would not likely be affected by any changes to premium fees.