U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services authorities have proposed a fee increase of about 66 percent on applications for naturalization, residency and work permits, promising an improvement on the services and a faster time processing.
This new plan, which could go into effect in June, would affect low-income immigrants and could diminish the number of applicants, said immigration experts at CSUN.
Jorge Garcia, assistant professor of Chicano/a Studies and expert on political science at CSUN, said the fee increase would only slow down the process because people who work at a minimum wage (or less) would have to save money for a longer period of time.
“The most affected would be the poor people that have low resources, but want to better their lives,” Garcia said. “If there is a family and every one of them needs to apply, you have to spend thousands of dollars.”
According to the USCIS, the rise in citizenship application fees would go from $330 to $595, an 80 percent increase. Meantime, permanent residency fees would soar from $180 to $340, and work permits would do the same, going from $190 to $355.
Immigration authorities say applicants should allow 5 months for processing time. The last time the USCIS changed the cost of this services was in 1998 with an increase of 76 percent.
Garcia said this proposal would push Latino low-income families to the edge and it would make it harder for them to regulate their status.
“Low-income families are going to face a challenge between putting food on the table and getting citizenship,” Garcia said. “It’s an economic choice. They are not going to negate food to the little ones to look for citizenship.
David Diaz, assistant professor of urban studies and expert on immigration social policy, agreed with Garcia that the proposed raising of fees would represent a challenge for those individuals with a low income.
Diaz said immigrants might support the fee hike, “if it improves the timeline and people can achieve citizenship status or work permits within about 18 months, then I think it’s a reasonable compromise.”
According to Diaz, the U.S. government needs more money to improve the service because applicants often wait three to five years in order to obtain citizenship status.
Garcia said a lack of resources to process the documents is simply a bureaucratic excuse for more funds, and that the process could actually be slowed. He added that the U.S. government has used the same justification in past increases and the process has not improved.
“The real reason of this (increase) to me is that they want to cut the number of Latino applicants,” Garcia said. “They don’t want poor citizens. They want wealthy citizens, but if immigrants were rich they would not have the necessity to come here.”
Leticia Hernandez, junior Chicano/a studies major, sees the potential for raised fees as a way of preventing immigrants from obtaining citizenship. Hernandez, born in Mexico, became a resident two years ago and said she would probably have to wait longer to apply.
“I will wait until I have the money,” Hernandez said. “Probably a lot less of the Latino population would apply to it because now they would have to save more money.”
If fewer and fewer Latinos are granted citizenship, their voice in politics will decrease, because as residents, they will not have enough rights, Hernandez said.
“It just makes it harder for people to become citizens, and at some point, because of the lack of money, some people might never apply,” Hernandez said.
Ricardo Vidal, a Northridge immigration lawyer, said the proposal would most likely pass because citizens do not have a say on the decision-making.
“This is very unfortunate because people with low wages are going to be affected the most,” Vidal said. “It is very good that they are going to speed up the process but there is no correlation between the time and the amount of money.”