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US immigration fees to be hiked from April 30

By Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston
April 20, 2004 16:59 IST
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US immigrants will have to pay more while applying for citizenship, legal residency and other immigration services after April 30 to help fund the increased security measures in post-9/11 America.

Immigrants will now be required to pay $320 to apply for citizenship, instead of $260, which is a $60 increase.

Residency or green card application fees will rise to $315. Work permits will cost $175. Overall fee increase averages about $55.

For example, if an immigrant loses his or her permanent resident card, it now costs $130 to replace it. But after April 30, it will cost $185.

The increase is the fifth since 1989, when immigrants paid $60 to apply for a green card or citizenship. Since 1989, the immigration fees have quadrupled, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services figures.

To apply for residency, immigrants paid $60 in 1989. Now it costs $255. After April 30, it will cost $315.

"The fee increases will be used to help reduce the backlog of applications and help pay for increased security measures implemented after the September 11 terrorist attacks," officials of the UCIS said.

"The agency is committed to delivering immigration services and benefits in a compassionate, effective and secure manner," director of UCIS Eduardo Aguirre said in a written statement.

"The new fee structure will allow us to enhance service without compromising our commitment to national security," said Aguirre.

Administration officials said the additional money is needed to recoup the high costs of conducting background checks and to reduce the growing backlog of applications, which topped 6 million last year.

But immigration advocates charged that the money generated from higher fees would do little to solve the agency's woeful record of processing citizenship and residency applications.

"These backlogs today have reached crisis proportions, delaying business transactions and separating families for months and years," said Judith Golub, senior director for advocacy with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

"This increase will allow them to barely continue to tread water."

Agency officials say costs have risen sharply since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as they spend more time and money conducting rigorous background checks on all applicants.

Since October, the agency has been losing $1 million a month.

Last year, agency officials handled about 7 million immigrant applications, mostly from people wanting to become US citizens or legal residents.

A study by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded late last year that the backlog of applications had reached 6.2 million, a 59 per cent increase since 2001.

President Bush, during his 2000 presidential campaign, pledged to reduce the waiting time for immigration benefits to no more than six months. Agency officials promise to achieve that goal by September 30, 2006.

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Seema Hakhu Kachru in Houston
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