On July 31, 2020, the Trump administration announced that effective October 2, 2020, U.S. visa fees will increase across most categories of visas, including those for skilled workers, students, and immigrants. The fee increases range from 21% to 100% or more, depending on the type of visa and the circumstances.
The changes will affect those seeking citizenship, businesses, and international students who need to have work authorization. The fee increase is expected to restrict immigration into the U.S. and to burden businesses in this country who need skilled workers from outside of the United States.
Some analysts have described the targeted fee increases as, in effect, a tax on businesses that are trying to meet their needs for skilled employees.
L-1 visas are nonimmigrant visas that permit overseas companies to transfer employees to positions in the United States. L-1A visas apply to transfers of executives and managers, including business owners, for up to seven years.
The L-1B visa allows the transfer of employees with specialized knowledge to an existing or new office in the U.S. for up to five years. There is no quota for L1 visas so long as transferees meet all requirements. Prior to the U.S. visa fee change, the fee for L-1 visa petitions was $460. After October 2, it will be $805—a 75% increase.
The H-1B visa allows U.S. employers to employ, on a temporary basis, foreign workers in specialty occupations. H-1B visa holders may stay in the United States for three years, but may extend their stay for an additional three years, after which time they must reapply for a visa. Unlike L-1 visas, there is an annual quota for H-1B visas.
Currently, the fee for an H-1B visa is $460, which will rise to $555 after October 2, 2020. This represents a 21% increase, but the cost will be even steeper for companies that employ many H-1B or L-1 visa holders.
Companies that have more than 50 employees, and whose workforce is at least 50% workers in H-1B or L-1 status will have even higher fees imposed on them. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) imposes a fee of $4,000 on initial H-1B petitions for these companies, and a $4,500 fee for initial L-1 petitions.
These fees will now also be imposed for extensions of visas when the fraud prevention and detection fee is not imposed. As a practical matter, whenever an employee’s status is extended, the additional fee will be collected.
Petition fees for workers in visa categories other than H-1B and L-1 are increasing, as well:
In addition, petition fees for visas for seasonal workers are increasing. Seasonal agricultural workers come to the U.S. on H-2A visas; seasonal non-agricultural workers enter the country on H-2B visas. The current fee for both types of visa is $460. The proposed fee change will increase the visa fee to $850 for H-2A visas and $715 for H-2B.
Currently, petitions for visas in these categories can list 100 or more workers. The new rule change would limit the number of workers named on a petition to 25. Between the decrease in the number of workers per petition, and the increase in petition fees, the financial burden on employers is expected to be substantial.
It will also become more expensive for international students to pursue work authorization in the United States. Currently, the application for employment authorization (I-765) for international students on Optional Practical Training and other non-DACA groups carries a fee of $410. Under the new rule, that fee amount will increase to $550. The move is viewed as a disincentive for foreign students to study and work in the U.S.
One apparent bright spot in the new rule regarding U.S. visa fees turns out not to be very bright after all. The cost of filing Adjustment of Status Form I-485 has gone down—but only by $10. In addition, because USCIS now plans to charge separate fees to file related forms I-485, I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization), and I-131 (Application for Travel Document), the overall cost increase would be substantial.
If you or your business might be affected by the new U. S. visa fee rule, you should consult with an experienced Maryland immigration attorney to discuss your options. If you have questions about the new USCIS immigration fees or nonimmigrant visa fees, please contact our law office located in Columbia, Maryland.