WASHINGTON – Because of higher security and administrative costs, Homeland Security (search) officials want to raise the fees that immigrants pay to become legal residents or U.S. citizens or get other benefits.
The department's Citizenship and Immigration Services (search) bureau proposed the increase in documents filed for publication in the Federal Register (search). The documents were on display at the Federal Register office Friday.
The fees would increase by $50 to $65, depending on the type of benefit requested, but most would be about $55. The cost to apply to become an American would increase from $260 to $320. Becoming a permanent resident would go from $255 to $315, getting a work permit would go up from $130 to $185.
Also, the agency wants to charge immigrants $70, a $20 increase, for fingerprints required for all applications.
The agency said current fees are based on a 1997 study of costs. Congress mandates that every two years the agency review whether fees it charges cover costs.
The last fee increase was in 2001, done by the defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (search), whose immigration benefits duties were transferred to the Homeland Security Department.
"We have been losing a great deal of money, nearly $1 million a day since Oct. 1, the start of this fiscal year, and that's directly attributed to the cost of doing business and background checks, the comprehensive background checks that we conduct on every single application," said Russ Knocke, Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman.
Knocke said President Bush's budget, to be released Monday, will propose a little more money to help reduce the immigrant application.
The General Accounting Office (search) reported this month that the backlog of immigrants waiting for applications to be processed had grown 59 percent to 6.2 million during the past three years.
The GAO, Congress' investigative arm, said the $460 million in fees that Citizenship and Immigration Services collected during 2001-03 were not enough to cover costs. It also said the agency should have reduced the backlog because it got an additional $116 million from Congress the last two years.
Citizenship and Immigration Services said costs of processing applications have increased in part because of expanded security checks. The agency said it is checking applicants, people in their households, people petitioning for the benefit on the applicant's behalf such as an employer and any beneficiaries against federal lookout lists twice in the application process.
The agency said the expanded security checks cost an additional $21 per application for a total of $140 million a year. The fees also are being increased to raise $157 million a year, or $23 an application, for administrative costs, which the agency described as record management, human resources and other activities.