Bloomberg Law
Jan. 6, 2023, 10:09 AM

Employers Seeking Foreign Workers to Feel Squeeze of Fee Hikes

Andrew Kreighbaum
Andrew Kreighbaum

US companies that rely on foreign workers to fill their labor needs face major sticker shock if and when the government’s proposed visa fee increases become finalized.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services hasn’t updated its fees since 2016. But the scale of the proposed increases in the employment visa context, outlined in a proposed rule this week, is drawing consternation from businesses.

Much of the proposed increase for employment-based visas is driven by a $600 asylum program fee as USCIS looks to shift the ongoing cost of its humanitarian mission to employers.

Those fee increases, if finalized, could have a significant impact on small businesses, nonprofits, and educational institutions that hire employees on H-1B specialty occupation visas or sponsor workers for green cards, said Shev Dalal-Dheini, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“It’s going to really impact who is able to use it and potentially price people out of the system,” she said.

But the agency, which is largely funded by user fees rather than appropriations, said the increases are needed to maintain operations at a time of increased border crossings.

The Biden administration issued an interim final rule last year to speed up the processing of asylum cases at the southern border. USCIS estimates that more than 2,000 additional officers are needed to implement the rule.

The administration also announced Thursday that it would admit 30,000 people each month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Venezuela, while expanding the use of Title 42 public health restrictions to expel others coming to the US from those countries.

USCIS must fulfill a growing humanitarian mission in addition to improving services and managing its other workload, Director Ur Jaddou said in a statement on the fee proposal.

“This proposed rule allows USCIS to more fully recover operating costs for the first time in six years and will support the Administration’s effort to rebuild the legal immigration system,” she said.

Targeting Efficiency

Prolonged delays in processing documents such as naturalization forms or work permit applications has led thousands of applicants to file lawsuits seeking to force a faster resolution from USCIS.

Customers paying much heftier fees should see a payoff in faster adjudication of their cases, the agency said in a Federal Register notice on the proposal.

But the proposal, which includes a 200% increase in H-1B visa petition fees, would diminish an existing option for fast-tracking cases, said Elissa Taub, an immigration attorney at Siskind Susser PC.

Under current rules, employers can pay an extra $2,500 to guarantee that their petitions are processed within 15 calendar days. The proposed regulation would change the premium processing time frame to 15 business days, potentially adding up to two weeks to the total wait time for a decision.

“You could be looking at an additional two weeks where a doctor isn’t able to work,” Taub said. “Is that really worth an extra $2,500? It would definitely change the calculus for a lot of employers.”

The proposal also would encourage employers and individuals to apply for benefits electronically by charging higher fees for paper applications. USCIS, whose largely paper-based system became a major impediment during the Covid-19 pandemic, has made an increasing number of applications available online.

“It’s very much sending a signal that they want people using their online filing systems more and hopefully, in turn, they will start to invest in those systems more,” said Xiao Wang, the CEO of Boundless Immigration Inc., which helps clients navigate the US immigration system. “Hopefully, this is a virtuous cycle where fees lead to processing applications more efficiently.”

‘Suck It Up’

But small and mid-market companies stand to feel the impact of the fee increases disproportionately, said Dick Burke, president and CEO of Envoy Global, which assists employers with international hiring.

“For the most enormous employers of foreign talent, it will be distasteful,” he said.

Even if the proposed fees receive significant pushback during a 60-day public comment period, it’s unlikely the final rule will make significant changes, said Laura Foote Reiff, an attorney at Greenberg Traurig LLP.

And most businesses will “suck it up and just pay for it,” she said.

“When you need workers, you’re going to pay a fee to get the worker,” she said. “I haven’t heard anybody say, ‘We’re stopping our immigration program, we’re not sponsoring people.’”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Laura D. Francis at; Martha Mueller Neff at