After six months of little word about the proposal, USCIS has announced that proposed increases to visa fees will not be instituted until March 2024. This is excellent news for both potential employment visa recipients and their sponsors, as the rate increases primarily focused on these applications.
However, USCIS is just delaying fee hikes, not canceling them. The agency still intends to raise application costs to compensate for a budgetary shortfall. There is now a limited period in which businesses seeking to sponsor foreign nationals can still access these lower costs. It is critical to understand how higher costs could impact your application to potentially mitigate the expense of sponsoring or applying for a visa.
USCIS’ Proposed Changes to Fees
USCIS published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in January 2023 regarding the adjustment of immigration and naturalization request fees. The NPRM discussed the agency’s “comprehensive fee review” and its plan to raise certain costs to cover shortfalls caused by a lack of funding. The proposal may have been intended to go into effect at the year’s end.
The proposed rule would have increased fees across the board, with limited exceptions for humanitarian programs and low-income filers. The primary target of rate hikes was employment visas, and some of the proposed increases were dramatic. For example, the H-1B Visa Electronic Registration fee would have risen from $10 per registrant to $215. Similarly, the L Visa I-129 Form’s price would have risen from $460 to $1385.
The NPRM was open to public comment for two and a half months, closing in mid-March. For obvious reasons, there was a significant outcry by the business community regarding the negative impact of such significant changes. Between then and the recent announcement, there was little information released by USCIS about the proposed changes.
Delays to USCIS Fee Increases
In July, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees USCIS operations, announced its plans for upcoming regulatory actions for the remainder of the calendar year. The announcement stated that the proposed visa fee hikes would be delayed until March 2024.
Furthermore, the announcement states, “DHS solicited public comment on the NPRM, which DHS intends to consider and address in a final rule.” While it did not provide further information about any changes made to the original proposal, this is promising for businesses sponsoring candidates for employment visas. It suggests that the public outcry against the dramatic price increases may have worked, and the final changes will be lower.
Preparing for Increasing Visa Fees Before 2024
It is not clear when in March the rule changes will go into effect. The specific date could significantly alter the impact of the changes on H-1B sponsors. The H-1B lottery registration period typically runs from March 1st through the end of the second full business week of the month. If the changes go into effect on the 1st, any H-1B registration fee changes will have an immediate impact. However, the cost remains $10 per applicant if they occur later in the month. This may significantly affect the number of candidates businesses choose to register.
With that in mind, now is the time for employers to review their plans to sponsor foreign nationals for the coming year. Steps to ensure your business is fully prepared for the potential changes include:
- Review necessary preliminary documents and processes: Higher fees make a candidate’s disqualification or denial much more painful. Ensure your company meets all the criteria to sponsor your chosen applicants now to reduce that risk. Review documents like your LCA, the job description, and drafts of the candidate’s itinerary.
- Confirm candidates’ eligibility: Some documents may take months to arrive. Work with potential candidates now if possible to secure copies of their diplomas, transcripts, and other critical evidence of eligibility.
- Consult with experienced immigration attorneys about your options: An H-1B visa is far from the only option to hire skilled foreign nationals. While the FY 2025 H-1B visa lottery won’t open until March, other visas don’t have the same limited application periods. A skilled attorney can help you determine whether you have better options to hire promising candidates before fee increases go into effect.
Delaying changes to application fees gives sponsoring businesses like yours time to prepare. Make the most of this opportunity by reaching out to Litwin & Smith. Our team of dedicated immigration attorneys can help your business develop a plan to sponsor visa candidates while minimizing risk and wasted money. Schedule your consultation today to learn how we can help make your immigration sponsorships more successful.