Premium Processing Fees Increase for All Petitions
Effective Oct. 19, premium processing fees increased, from $1,440 to $2,500, for benefit requests that are already eligible for premium processing through Form I-907 (Request for Premium Processing), except for H-2B and R-1 petitions, which are only increasing from $1,440 to $1,500.
Provisions relating to premium processing — increasing fees and expanding services — were included in the stop-gap Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act, signed into law on Sept. 30, which funds the government through Dec. 11, 2020. Included in that Act is language that requires U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to permanently expand premium processing. While the Continuing Appropriations Act took effect immediately, changes to premium processing do not take effect until USCIS is able to implement them. The increase noted above is the first measure in the legislation to be implemented by USCIS.
Other provisions relating to premium processing but not yet implemented by USCIS include expanding premium processing services to: (1) employment-based nonimmigrant petitions and associated applications for dependents; (2) Form I-140 petitions currently not permitted to be premium processed; (3) Form I-539 used to extend of change nonimmigrant visa status; (4) Form I-765 used to request work authorization; and (5) any other immigration benefit type deemed appropriate by the Secretary. The legislation provides clear guidelines on the maximum amount of fees that can be charged for these expanded categories.
Pending Removal of Conditions (I-751) and Filing for Naturalization
Because USCIS takes well over a year to process a Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, conditional permanent residents married to U.S. citizens find themselves eligible to file for naturalization — even though their removal of conditions case remains pending. These individuals are permitted to file both cases, assuming, of course, the applicant is eligible.
What is the process? Sometimes, the removal of conditions case will be adjudicated while the naturalization case is pending and before any scheduled interview, but sometimes not. If the naturalization case is scheduled for an interview before the removal of conditions is adjudicated, the U.S. citizen spouse is advised to attend the naturalization interview with the foreign national. This is because the USCIS officer first will adjudicate the removal of conditions, and then conduct the naturalization interview.
It should be noted that if the foreign national spouse entered on an immigrant visa after consular processing abroad, there should always be an in-person interview for the removal of conditions application. Historically, this has not been USCIS practice, but it is now. (If your I-751 case has a receipt number that starts with NBC, then this is a good indicator that your case ultimately will be scheduled for an interview.) In all other instances, it is the service center’s discretion to decide whether to schedule an in-person interview. That decision is based on the quality of evidence submitted and whether a determination can be made based upon a review of the documentary evidence alone.
Finally, it should be noted that sometimes USCIS mistakenly issues a two-year conditional green card when it should have issued a 10-year card. If a foreign national has been married to the U.S. citizen spouse for at least two years at the time of admission, residency should be granted with no conditions attached and no requirement to file for removal of conditions. If you believe that you were issued conditional residency when you should have been granted residency with no conditions, you can file a Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, choose reason 2.d (USCIS error), and include a copy of your marriage certificate proving the date of marriage. If you have already filed for removal of conditions based on a wrongly issued conditional resident green card, USCIS should recognize the error, administratively close the case, return your filing fee, and instruct you to file the I-90 for a corrected green card.
Because the removal of conditions takes so long to process, in most instances it is recommended that a person file as early as possible in the 90-day window. Further, there is no reason to wait to file for naturalization if eligible and the removal of conditions case is still pending. A naturalization application can be filed as early as 90 days before the three-year anniversary of conditional residency. You can be in line for both benefits at the same time.
Dilip Patel of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, a board-certified expert on immigration law, can be reached at (813) 222-1120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org