On Tuesday 3 January 2023, the Biden Administration announced that application costs for various types of immigration visas would be increased. No increase in non-immigrant application costs has been announced, therefore the price for applying for an ESTA will remain the same.
Reason for increase in costs
The main reason for the increase in application costs is that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has seen a large increase in processing costs in recent years. This increase in processing costs is due to increased demand for visas and a shortage of USCIS staff, which has resulted in longer processing times. This, coupled with budget cuts, means that with the current spending pattern, the USCIS cannot provide the same quality service without having a lasting impact on executive operations such as the timely issuance of visas. Part of the purpose of increasing the application cost is to fund the processing of the large number of asylum applications at the US-Mexico border. Another intended outcome of the increase is that USCIS can continue to operate at the same level as before.
When will the increase take effect?
This proposal to increase costs was recently announced but is not yet effective. This is because the USCIS is required to follow a specific procedure under the Administrative Procedures Act before major changes can be made. Thus, the proposal regarding the final measure must first be published. This took place on January 4, 2023. This is followed by a 60-day period during which the public is allowed to provide feedback on the proposed measure. Afterwards, the USCIS can choose whether to amend or withdraw the proposal. Within 30 days after the end of the comment period, the final proposal must be published and the rules described therein will take effect. The current proposal involves a number of hefty cost increases for applying for various employment-related visas.
In the preliminary proposal, the following changes are suggested:
- Incorporating the costs of collecting biometric data into the total costs This eliminates the need for these data to be collected separately.
- Specifying specific application fees for each nonimmigrant visa category covered by the form (Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers).
- Reducing visa application processing times from 15 calendar days to 15 working days.
- Charging lower fees for processing certain application forms submitted online.
This preliminary proposal makes no mention of a change in the eligibility requirements for a visa fee waiver. With the revenue that the changes in this proposal should generate, the USCIS expects to be able to hire more employees to process visa applications, implement technical innovations and ultimately provide better service to visa applicants.
If the proposed changes are implemented, the costs of several immigration visas will increase much more than before. For instance, the application costs of the H-1B visa for highly skilled workers will increase by 70% to over USD 780 (about GBP 628). In addition, applicants for this visa type will have to pay higher pre-registration fees of USD 215 (about GBP 173) instead of USD 10 (about GBP 8). Those looking to sponsor temporary workers can expect a cost increase of more than USD 1,000 (GBP 805) per worker after the proposal is introduced.
Moreover, the preliminary proposal also proposes an increase in green card application fees. This is an increase in the fee that US citizens and permanent residents have to pay to sponsor a family member to come and live permanently in the United States. They should expect an increase of 33%, representing a total cost of USD 710 (about GBP 571). US citizens or permanent residents who want their fiancé to come over to live with them in the United States face a 35% increase and have to pay USD 720 (about GBP 580). The cost that immigrants already residing in the United States will pay to apply for a green card will increase by 35% to USD 1540 (about GBP 1240). The application costs for applying for US citizenship will increase by 19%, or USD 120 (about GBP 96). Applying for asylum in the United States will remain free for now.
Cost increase does not apply to ESTA applications
Currently, the costs of nonimmigrant visas, such as the ESTA, have not increased. Travellers from countries that are part of the US Visa Waiver Program do not have to take extra costs into account when applying for this travel authorisation for the United States. The ESTA can easily be applied for online. When applying through e-Visa.co.uk, the ESTA costs £49.95 . That amount consists of 21 USD in consular costs and the rest in service costs, which at the current exchange rate amount to £33.28. Once granted, the ESTA is valid for two years.