Proposed Visa Fee Increases Would Discourage International Students and Scholars From Coming to the United States
January 06, 2020

In recent comments to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), ACE and seven other higher education associations warned that the Trump administration’s proposed increases in immigration fees would “reinforce a troubling message” that the United States no longer welcomes members of the international community to American campuses.

The increases, published in the Nov. 14, 2019 Federal Register, would affect a range of non-immigrant and immigrant visa applications, including the fee to renew Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. A USCIS press release says the new fees will ensure that applicants are covering the “true cost” of processing, including “in-depth screening.”

While the associations support efforts to process requests more quickly, they believe the proposed increases “are excessive, burdensome, and will adversely impact students, faculty, and institutions of higher education.” Overall, visa fees would increase by 21 percent, “without any evidence that the additional revenue generated will be used to reverse the ongoing slowdown in processing.”

Along with the broader shift in tone and other visa-related policies proposed by the administration, the groups believe that the fee increases will exacerbate a downward trend in international student enrollment.

Among the specific concerns:

​Increased fees for renewing DACA: The plan increases DACA renewal fees by $275 and the fee for DACA employment authorization by $80, making the total amount for a DACA renewal $765, a 55 percent increase.

Optional practical training (OPT) application fee increase: The plan imposes a 20 percent increase—to $490—for the I-765 application for international students applying for OPT. Combined with the increase in OPT processing time—which has risen from three months to five months in recent months—there is concern that international students will be forced to delay employment offers or give up and return to their home countries without completing OPT.

The proposed rule also includes an 8 percent increase for I-539 Applications to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status and makes changes to and increases the fee for I-129 Petitions for Nonimmigrant Worker for H-1Bs, two forms used by highly skilled workers.

The transfer of funds from the Immigrations Examinations Fee Account to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): The proposed rule would transfer $207.6 million in USCIS funds to ICE. As the associations write, the purpose of USCIS is to provide immigration adjudication and naturalization services, not enforcement.

Extended premium processing time: Under the proposed rule, the length for premium processing would be extended from “15 days” to “15 business days,” which is likely to increase the processing time from approximately two weeks to approximately three weeks. More and more institutions, as well as international scholars and faculty, now depend on premium processing given the delays with normal processing times.

The increases are slated to go into effect later this year.