Tag Archives: naturalization

Immigration & Travel Challenges Leave Green Card Holders Considering U.S. Citizenship

NOTE: USCIS filing fees for Form N-400, Application for Naturalization increase 83%, from $640 to $1,170 on October 2, 2020.

Even prior to the pandemic, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services made the news for processing delays across visa categories. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to additional delays, including green card printing backlogs. The agency blamed declining requests for immigration services when it requested $1.2 billion in funding from Congress earlier this year. When the negotiations fell through, USCIS contacted approximately two-thirds of the workforce to warn of furloughs starting August 30, 2020. Amid the budget woes, DHS also published a final rule increasing prices for many immigration benefits, including increasing the cost to apply for citizenship from $640 to $1,170 starting on October 2, 2020.

Recently, an independent government watchdog determined that the appointment of top officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were invalid due to the agency’s disregard for the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Federal judges have already struck down some H-1B requirements, but we could see increased legal challenges for policies enacted during the past two years.

Even green card holders have been subject to restrictions during the President’s travel bans. Many permanent residents are considering naturalization to not only avoid the uncertainties of shifting immigration regulations, but to participate fully in the U.S. democratic process.

When should I file for U.S. citizenship?

Naturalization, or the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, is largely a personal choice based on your circumstances and goals. We will provide information on the requirements and eligibility for citizenship, as well as an overview of the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens.

Eligibility Overview

Typically, you must be a green card holder for 5 years before applying for naturalization. Some spouses of U.S. citizens are eligible if they have been a lawful permanent resident for at least 3 years and have been living in marital union with the same U.S. citizen during that period.

Residency Requirements

You must maintain continuous residence for at least five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen as described above). You must also establish that you have resided in the state or service district for 3 months prior to filing. If you travel outside the U.S. for more than six months but less than a year or you are absent for more than 1 year, you may break the continuity of residence. Even multiple absences of less than 6 months may concern an immigration officer: you need to provide additional evidence that your actual dwelling place and residence is in the United States. You must show that you have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years preceding your filing (or 18 months out of 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen).

If you are considering naturalization, you should consult with an attorney when planning extended travel to ensure you are maintaining your permanent residence.

Citizenship Qualifications

USCIS will evaluate whether you are a person of “good moral character” and requires that you demonstrate an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. constitution. You must also have an understanding of U.S. history and government and be able to read, write, and speak basic English to pass the required civics and English test. The interview will be conducted in English and you are expected to be able to answer in English. When you pass the interview and test portions, you will be scheduled for an oath ceremony. Last fall, USCIS started piloting changes to the tests, with changes set to go into effect later this year or early 2021.

What happens if I don’t pass?

You can take the English and civics tests between 60 and 90 days after the date of your initial interview. If you fail once again, you must apply for naturalization again. If there was wrongdoing or bias on the part of the interviewing officer, there may be an opportunity to appeal the decision, but this is a rare occurrence. There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for naturalization.

Becoming a Citizen

At the ceremony, you will be required to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath is as follows:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

At the ceremony, you are required to return your green card. It will no longer be needed as you will receive a Certificate of Naturalization after taking the oath. You should review the certificate and notify USCIS of any errors before leaving the ceremony.

Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities

As a green card holder, you are probably already familiar with tax reporting requirements and other responsibilities that come with living and working in the United States. After you become a U.S. citizen, you are afforded additional rights and responsibilities. You should update your Social Security record, apply for a U.S. passport if you intend to travel abroad, and you can register to vote. USCIS states that U.S. citizens are eligible to:

  • Vote.
    Only citizens can vote in federal elections. Most states also restrict the right to vote, in most elections, to U.S. citizens.
  • Serve on a jury. 
    Only U.S. citizens can serve on a federal jury. Most states also restrict jury service to U.S. citizens. Serving on a jury is an important responsibility for U.S. citizens.
  • Travel with a U.S. passport. 
    A U.S. passport enables you to get assistance from the U.S. government when overseas, if necessary.
  • Bring family members to the U.S. 
    S. citizens generally get priority when petitioning to bring family memberspermanently to this country.
  • Obtain citizenship for children under 18 years of age. 
    In most cases, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizenis automatically a U.S. citizen.
  • Apply for federal jobs. 
    Certain jobs with government agencies require U.S. citizenship.
  • Become an elected official. 
    Only citizens can run for federal office (U.S. Senate or House of Representatives) and for most state and local offices.
  • Keep your residency. 
    A U.S. citizen’s right to remain in the United States cannot be taken away.
  • Become eligible for federal grants and scholarships. 
    Many financial aid grants, including college scholarships and funds given by the government for specific purposes, are available only to U.S. citizens.
  • Obtain government benefits. 
    Some government benefits are available only to U.S. citizens.

Explore additional rights and responsibilities on the USCIS website.

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USCIS Fees Increase on October 2, 2020

USCIS Fees Increase on October 2, 2020

On July 31, 2020 the Department of Homeland Security announced an increase to fees for immigration and naturalization benefit requests. Although most fees are increasing, a $10 discount is offered for online submission where available.

Employment Visa Updates

Employers are understandably concerned about the potential effect the rule has on H-1B, L-1, and other immigrant employees. For employers with more than 50 employees and more than 50% of those employees in H-1B or L-1 status, a $4,000 fee applies. The rule expands the Public Law 114-113 fee of $4,000 to both H-1B and L-1 new employment as well as extensions of stay for employers that meet the 50 employee, 50% dependability test. The Public Law fee will apply regardless of whether the fraud fee applies. Extension requests for H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B visas filed by the same petitioner for the same employee or H-1B, L-1A, and L-1B amended petitions were previously exempt from the additional fee.

DHS will now separate the I-129 into forms based on case type and eliminate the current supplements to the I-129 form. This also allows DHS to charge separate fees for each form depending on the classification. DHS states that the current base filing fee of $460 doesn’t accurately capture the costs associated with adjudication since the fee is paid regardless of how many nonimmigrant workers will benefit from the petition or application, the type of worker evaluated, whether an employee is identified, or how long it takes to adjudicate the different nonimmigrant classifications.

The rule updates the filing fees as follows:

Case Type Current Fee Final Fee Change Percent Change
E-1

E-2

TN

$460 $695 $235 51 percent
H-1B $460 $555 $95 21 percent
H-2A
(named beneficiaries)
$460 $850 $390 85 percent
H-2B
(named beneficiaries)
$460 $715 $255 55 percent
L-1A

L-1B

$460 $805 $345 75 percent
O-1 $460 $705 $245 53 percent
H-2A
(unnamed beneficiaries)
$460 $415 -$45 -10 percent
H-2B
(unnamed beneficiaries)
$460 $385 -$75 -16 percent


Green Card Fee Changes

Children under the age of 14 filing for a green card with their parents were previously able to pay a reduced fee of $750 instead of the $1,140 (plus $85 biometrics fee) currently charged to older applicants. All applicants will pay $1,130 under the new rule.

DHS also chose to separate the filing fees for Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, and Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, when either filed concurrently with Form I-485 or after the Form I-485 has been accepted and is still pending. Current regulations allow individuals to pay the I-485 fee, but also file the I-765 and I-131 without additional fees if filed concurrently.

The rule claims: “Debundling allows individuals to pay for only the services actually requested. Thus, many individuals may not pay the full combined price for Forms I-485, I-131, and I-765.” The newly established fees are as follows:

  • Form I-131, Application for Travel Document: $590
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization: $550
  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or adjust Status: $1,130

Individuals applying for work and travel documents along with their permanent residence application will now pay a total of $2,270.

Citizenship Fees

DHS will remove the N-400 fee waiver (Form I-942) and the reduced fee option “in order to recover full cost for naturalization services.” The rule also removes the fee waiver for the N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. However, the removal of fee waivers will reduce the cost of Forms N-600 and N-600K because the increased fee would no longer need to cover the cost of the fee-waived form adjudication.

However, the N-400 would not be afforded the same price decrease as the N-600: DHS raised the naturalization fee an astounding 83% from $640 to $1,170 for the paper-based filing. With the removal of the reduced fee option, naturalization may be financially out of reach for many families.

Premium Processing

Currently, petitioners or applicants can pay $1,440 for certain employment-based petitions to be adjudicated within 15 calendar days. The new rule will change the 15-day calculation from calendar days to business days, while also excluding federal holidays and regional or national office closures due to weather or other causes.

The rule also states that the 15-day period be paused when USCIS issues a notification of an approval, denial, RFE, or NOID. The rule would also clarify that a new 15 business day period will begin upon receipt of an RFE or NOID response. If an investigation is opened for fraud or misrepresentation, USCIS can retain the fee and not reach a conclusion to the request within 15 days.

The agency claims that the shift to calculating by business days will allow USCIS additional time to complete processing on a premium processing petition and could reduce the need for USCIS to suspend premium processing when request filing volumes are high.

Payment Updates

USCIS will eliminate the $30 returned check fee because the fees associated with collecting the charge were higher than the returned check fees actually collected. However, petitioners and applicants should still ensure that adequate funds are available to avoid processing delays.

Another shift that has the potential to trip up applicants and petitioners is the planned updates to certain form instructions to only allow certain payment types for certain forms. For example, USCIS may determine that it only wants to accept credit or debit card payments for naturalization. USCIS could also decide that only a check or money order is acceptable payment for a certain form. The rule does not modify the instructions at this time, but states:

“In this final rule, DHS does not restrict the method of payment for any particular immigration benefit request. This final rule clarifies the authority for DHS to prescribe certain types of payments for specific immigration benefits or methods of submission.”

Extra precautions must be taken to review form instructions every time a case is filed to avoid a processing delay due to an incorrect payment type.

Biometrics Fees

The new rule incorporates biometrics fees into the underlying immigration benefit request to “simplify the fee structure, reduce rejections of benefit requests for failure to include a separate biometric services fee, and better reflect how USCIS uses biometric information.” The fee includes FBI name checks, FBI fingerprints, Application Support Center (ASC) contractual support, and biometric service management (including federal employees at ASC locations). The rule outlines that a separate biometric services fee will be retained for Temporary Protected Status in the amount of $30, but requests for other immigration benefits will include the biometric fee.

Secure Mail Initiative

We have seen many clients suffer when the United States Postal Service (USPS) loses important immigration notifications. The rule announced that USCIS will implement Signature Confirmation Restricted Delivery (SCRD) as the sole method of delivery of secure USCIS documents. USPS states that Signature Confirmation requires that the recipient or another responsible person at the residence be present to sign for the item and then the sender will receive the signature and name of the recipient and the date, time, and location of the delivery. The rule outlines states

“USCIS and applicants can track their document using the USPS website up to when the document is delivered. Recipients will also have the ability to change their delivery location by going to the USPS website and selecting “hold for pickup” to arrange for pickup at a post office at a date and time that suits them.”

Applicants and petitioners should ensure that accurate addresses are submitted prior to the case filing.

Timeline for Rule Implementation

This final rule is effective Oct. 2, 2020. Any application, petition, or request postmarked on or after this date must include payment of the new, correct fees established by this final rule and utilize the updated forms.

Are you ready to start your case prior to the fee and process shifts? Contact us at info@challalaw.com or 804-360-8482 to get started today.