COST OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP JUMPS IN PACIFIC

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By David V. Crisostomo

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, June 4) - Immigrants will pay more for the American dream beginning July 30.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced that proposed increases to immigration and naturalization fees will become official by the end of next month. The new fee schedule will increase 38 immigration application and petition filing fees by anywhere from 50 to 500 percent more than what is currently charged.

The increases will hit some immigrants' pockets hard.

If you want to become a naturalized citizen, be prepared to fork out an additional US$230 to cover your application for citizenship. The application fee will rise to US$595, up from US$330.

If you want the coveted green card, you'll have to pay an additional US$605. The new green card fee is US$930, up from US$325.

If you're an immigrant and want to petition your family members, save an additional US$165 to cover the family petition fee.

The new fees are aimed at generating new revenue for Immigration Services, which relies on fees to pay for its operations.

The new revenue, the agency said, will pay for long overdue improvements to a system that for years has dealt with a backlog of millions of immigration cases each year. Those improvements will help reduce application and petition processing times by up to 20 percent by 2009, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services' Director Emilio Gonzalez.

Guam immigration attorney Ladd Baumann has said the fee increase could price out many people, who already are struggling with the financial demands of current fees. The increased fees also translate into increased costs for employers who want to hire foreign workers.

"It's hard enough already with the number of expenses involved to enter the United States," he said. "If you're at the lower end of the income bracket, that results in a substantial expense. One can only hope that if they do increase the fees, that it will only make them more efficient than they are now."

If the new fees are approved, processing times for the four most common applications -- naturalized citizenship, green card renewal, permanent residency and petition for foreign worker -- could see some improvement by next year.

Immigration officials say the new fees will generate more than US$2 billion in additional revenue over the next two years. The agency said the money also will pay for improvements to immigration offices, technology upgrades and hiring and training personnel.

Federal officials sought comments on the new fees earlier this year.

"Numerous comments supported the rule, although many of those were qualified by expectations that the fee increase will result in better service," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in the Federal Register. The Department of Homeland Security oversees Immigration Services.

Costly delays

"Many of these comments emphasized that the costly delays in case processing are far more expensive to applicants and petitioners than the cost of the discrete filing fee," Chertoff said. "Others emphasized that filing fees are often a small portion of the total cost incurred by an individual or family immigrating to the United States."

Gonzalez noted that the new fee schedule does include a 25 percent reduction to the proposed filing fee for the "Adjustment of Status to Permanent Resident" form for children under 14 years old. Immigration Services also will allow a one-time free extension of approved orphan petitions and will expands the availability of fee waivers for asylum or other humanitarian cases and certain juvenile immigrants.

"The volume and value of the comments we received has provided an opportunity," Gonzalez said, "to fine-tune our final fee structure (in a way) that we believe is both fair to our customers and vital to our nation as we continue to build a secure and efficient national immigration service."

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