Homeland Security wants to increase visa fees. That won’t fix anything.

In May 2020, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that processes visa and naturalization applications, warned Congress that it was on the verge of serious budget problems. The agency is funded almost entirely by fees it collects from candidates, which have plummeted under the Trump administration.

With legal migration and naturalization now approaching pre-pandemic levels, USCIS has proposed solving its cash woes by increasing fees for nearly all categories of immigrants. USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou said the fee hike will help improve the agency’s “customer service operations” and manage “inbound workload.” But the agency’s proposal ignores the reality that its failure to function is the result of a bloated bureaucracy, not a lack of revenue.

USCIS wants to drastically increase family and work visa fees. Employers hiring highly skilled workers on H-1B visas would have to pay 70 percent more. Application fees for one type of investment visa would rise from $3,675 to $11,160. The cost of filing all the forms required to obtain U.S. permanent resident status would increase from $1,225 to $2,820. If the changes are completed, according to Bloomberg Lawthey would “represent a weighted average increase of 40% across the board.”

But processing time has “nothing to do with money,” David Bier, associate director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, wrote in a January 2023 report. Bier noted that “the average median processing time across all forms for which [USCIS] reports that data tripled” between 2012 and 2022, from less than four months to more than a year.

The agency’s immigration forms have grown from a total of 193 pages in 2003 to 701 in 2022, according to a Cato analysis. The length of almost all shapes increased during this period. The result is longer processing times, which contributes to the ever-growing number of pending applications. USCIS judges will need about 10 million man hours to resolve that backlog.

USCIS says the new fee structure would help it hire about 8,000 new workers to process claims. You should turn instead why processing those applications takes so long. Increasing the cost of applying for legal status while increasing the burden of paperwork is likely to deprive the US of talented foreigners.

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