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About that USCIS fee hike

It’s called EO 14012.

EO for Executive Order.

Signed on 2 February 2021. Published on 5 February 2021. With an official citation of 86 FR 8277 and the fancy title: “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.”1

Executive order

And for the genealogical community it’s cautious good news.

Good news because of its likely impact on a rule adopted by the prior Administration in August 2020 that left all of us — The Legal Genealogist included — absolutely aghast as it raised essentially all immigration and naturalization fees, including an enormous hike for genealogical records that we need to get from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS).

That rule, you may recall, was first proposed in November 2019, and — as proposed — was ghastly: “The fee (for a record search) would increase from $65 to $240, an increase of $175 (269 percent increase). The fee for (a paper record) would increase from $65 to $385, an increase of $320 (492 percent).”2

As adopted, it wasn’t a whole lot better. The record index search fee of $65 was to go to $160 if made online, a 95 percent increase, and $170 if made offline, a 162 percent increase, mitigated slightly by the fact that it would include a copy of any record located that is stored in digital format. The fee for a genealogical record request made online was to go from $65 $255, a 292 percent increase, and if made offline it was to go to $265, a 308 percent increase.3

Fortunately, the whole fee hike package was put on hold when a federal court in California entered an order in September halting the rule from taking effect.4 That was followed by another injunction by a different federal judge in Washington, D.C. The Administration appealed, and we all watched — hearts in throat — as the appeal progressed.

Then came the change in Administrations. The first thing that happened was that the appeal was dropped. Then late last month, USCIS published a notice in the Federal Register saying it was complying with the injunction and the new fees were not being assessed.5 And then last week the Executive Order, including the directive that:

. . . the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall . . . identify any agency actions that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system—such as the final rule entitled, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements,” 85 Fed. Reg. 46788 (Aug. 3, 2020) . . .—and recommend steps, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to revise or rescind those agency actions.6

Calling out that fee increase rule specifically.

That is Very Good News indeed.

Now the caution… this doesn’t mean there isn’t going to be a fee hike. Since the focus is on the immigration process, the Executive Order doesn’t mention genealogy records at all, and we still could face some increases down the road.

Which means two things.

1. We don’t let our guard down.

2. We continue to wholeheartedly support efforts such as Records Not Revenue, spearheading the work to get the vast majority of these records transferred from USCIS to the National Archives and to get those already transferred released for public access.

When it comes to records access, a genealogist’s work is never done.

Even when there’s cautious good news to report.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Cautious good news,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted date).

SOURCES

  1. Joseph R. Biden, Jr., “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans,” E.O. 14012, 2 Feb 2021, 86 FR 8277 (https://www.federalregister.gov/ : accessed 8 Feb 2021).
  2. Genealogy Requests, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements, 84 FR 62280 at 62343 (14 Nov 2019) (emphasis added).
  3. See Table 1—Non-Statutory IEFA Immigration Benefit Request Fees, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements, 85 FR 46788 at 46792 (3 Aug 2020) (emphasis added).
  4. See Nathan Solis, “Judge Blocks Huge Immigration and Citizenship Fee Hike,” Courthouse News Service, posted 29 Sep 2020 (https://www.courthousenews.com/ : accessed 8 Feb 2021).
  5. See “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements,” 29 Jan 2021, 86 FR 7493 (https://www.federalregister.gov/ : accessed 8 Feb 2021).
  6. §3ii, “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans,” E.O. 14012, 2 Feb 2021.
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