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Speak out on proposed USCIS rule

Two weeks left.

That’s all the time there is to speak out against a proposed rule by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that will raise the fees for genealogical records by nearly 500%.

The deadline for comments on the rule is December 16, 2019 — just two weeks from today — and The Legal Genealogist implores you to act swiftly to add your voice to the list of those opposing this increase.

time running out

If this rule is adopted, the cost of getting a record search done at USCIS — the first step that lets us know if the agency actually holds records about a research target — will rise from $65 to $240. And the cost of getting a paper record identified in that record search, such as a visa file, will rise from $65 to $385. So a record that, today, costs a maximum of $130 will cost $625 if this rule goes into effect.

And that vastly higher fee will be for records that, in many cases, should have already been transferred to the National Archives and so available to us all for much lower fees.

Now… I’ve written about this before1 — and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll write about it again — but right now, at this moment, there are some persistent myths that are surfacing that need to be dispelled.

First, while it’s absolutely true that there’s a comment on the USCIS website that says fees are not increasing, that reference has nothing to do with this new proposed rule. It’s a now-almost-two-year-old reference to the fact that USCIS was moving some of its records to a different location. The page itself says: “Last Reviewed/Updated: 03/09/2018.”2

So please don’t think that the USCIS is assuring us fees won’t be increased. If this rule is adopted, fees will skyrocket.

Second, some folks are reading the proposed rule to think it applies only to records provided in a paper format and so — they claim — if we get them electronically (via Dropbox, for example) the new fees won’t apply.

Nope, nope, nope, nope. The new rule only says that one of its two forms will be limited to paper records. It’s just that we won’t need to submit two requests (a search request and a records request) if the record is already held in a digital form.

So please don’t think this rule is limited: the fee hikes apply to everything we might ask for or receive from the agency.

And the most critical myth of all: the one that says there’s nothing we can do about this. We can do something — we can speak out. Here’s a game plan every one of us can put into effect, individually, between now and that deadline, two weeks from today:

First: read the proposed rule that changes the fees (it’s online at the Federal Register here, and the section on the fees in the Genealogy Program begins on page 587 here).

Second: Put together your thoughts about why this proposed fee hike is a bad idea. You can look at the Records, Not Revenue website for more information about this and ideas about what to include. You can also read the comments that have already been posted about this proposal at the online portal of the Federal Register here. Write it out and have it ready to upload (the comment system is online, or you can comment in writing by mail). Be sure to specifically mention that you’re commenting on the fees for the Genealogy Program.

Third: Post your comment to the online Federal Register comment system here. The reference number is DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 — make sure to follow all the instructions, and then check on the Federal Register portal comment page to be sure yours posted.

Fourth: Send a copy of your comments to the two United States Senators from your state and to the member of the House of Representatives for your district. You can get names and contact information for your Senators at and for your House member at

Fifth and last: Recruit your fellow genealogists-librarians-historians-researchers-news media friends to join in. This impacts all researchers — and we need to stand together on this.

After you’ve commented, if you’d like to stay informed on this issue, you can sign up for updates at Records, Not Revenue.

So please don’t think this isn’t a problem. Please don’t think it won’t impact our research. And please, please, don’t think there’s nothing we can do.

Speak out.

Be heard.

Fight the fee hikes.

Do it now.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Fight the fee hikes,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 2 Dec 2019).


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Records, not revenue,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 21 Nov 2019 ( : accessed 2 Dec 2019).
  2. USCIS Genealogy Transition to the National Records Center: Will fees change?,” USCIS Genealogy Program ( : accessed 2 Dec 2019).
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