U.S. Citizenship Costs Significantly Increase, Making It More Difficult for Immigrants to Become Residents

By: Lauren | Published: Mar 30, 2024

For millions of people, the very first step in the great American Dream is actually becoming an American. But since the first soon-to-be Americans arrived on the Mayflower 400 years ago, the application process has become far more complicated. 

Over the last several decades, the paperwork required to apply for US citizenship has grown infinitely more complicated and even much more expensive. Now, the US Citizen and Immigration Services just announced they will be raising the cost of its applications once again. 

Applying to Almost Any US Visa Is Quite Complicated

Many Americans may not know that every person who flies into or even through the United States has to apply for a visa, unless they’re part of the visa waiver program. This visa waiver program, known as the ESTA, costs $21 and can be completed online from anywhere in the world. But it only lasts for 90 days and 41 countries are currently part of the program. 

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Photograph of the ESTA logo superimposed on an American flag

Source: Freepik/Wikipedia

The ESTA is considered quite a simple process. However, for anyone who wants to live, work, or stay in the United States for more than three months, the application process is exceedingly more complicated.

Almost Every Visa Requires Several Smaller Applications

Filing for a US visa is not simple. Almost every visa contains several applications that each have specific requirements, notarized documents, original copies, bank statements, etc.

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A woman is clearly frustrated as she looks over paperwork

Source: Freepik

Filling out the paperwork isn’t just time consuming; it’s also very confusing. Often, the various applications seem to contradict each other and ask for information many people don’t have on hand. 

Most Applicants Use Lawyers to Ensure the Application Is Perfect

Just one typo on one of the many applications could lead to a refusal from the USCIS. And if that happens, the organization does not refund the application fee. 

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A lawyer and his client shaking hands over their appointment books

Source: Freepik

Therefore, to ensure that their applications are unquestionably perfect the first time around, many foreign immigrants employ lawyers to either help them through the process or even apply for them. Though the latter is far more expensive. 

How Much Does It Cost to Apply for US Citizenship?

It can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,500 to hire a lawyer to help with a citizenship application. However, that doesn’t include the price tag set by the USCIS.

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A chalkboard with the text “Citizenship Test” on top an American flag

Source: iStock

As of March 2024, it only costs $725 to apply for citizenship in the United States, which includes the citizenship test and the biometrics appointment. But the only people who can even apply for citizenship or naturalization are those who have already been a permanent resident for five years. 

Becoming a Permanent Resident Is Quite Challenging

Confused? The application process is extremely challenging to understand, even without the complicated government paperwork. Essentially, no person can apply to be a citizen of the USA unless they have been a permanent resident for five years. But how does one become a permanent resident?

A social security card and a permanent resident card for the USA on top of an American Flag

Source: iStock

Applications, expensive and time consuming, are the only way to get a Permanent Residency Card, otherwise known as a Green Card.  And those fees are now increasing.

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The USCIS Announcement

The USCIS released a statement on February 26, 2024, that said, “The USCIS Stabilization Act established the current premium processing fees and the authority for the Department of Homeland Security to adjust the premium fees on a biennial basis. After leaving these fees unchanged for the three years following passage of the Act, DHS is now increasing the premium processing fees.”

Exterior of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services office with a sign at the entry

Source: Wikipedia

It then said, “The adjustment increases certain premium processing fees from $1,500 to $1,685, $1,750 to $1,965, and $2,500 to $2,805,” and included a chart of the various applications with a new price tag. 

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The New Costs for US Residency Applications

According to the statement, forms for Petitions for Nonimmigrant Workers will increase from $1,500 to $1,685; for Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers, the new fee is $2,805 instead of $2,500; forms or Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status went from $1,750 to $1,965; finally, for Applications for Employment authorization, the new pierce is $1,685 instead of $1,500. 

A chart from the USCIS that explains the 2024 increase in form application costs

Source: USCIS

Additionally, applying for a Green Card is also more expensive. Instead of $1,225, the cost is now $1,440. Every applicant who files after April 1, 2024 will have to pay the new fee. Checks written and mailed for the incorrect amount will be returned to sender. 

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What Do These Increases Mean for Applicants?

While these price increases may seem small on paper, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of people applying have already paid thousands in lawyers fees, as well as written many other checks for the many forms within each application. 

Several people stand in a line while being sworn in as the newest citizens of the United States

Source: iStock

So, a few hundred dollars on each application form is actually quite a drastic change. And anyone who lives in the United States right now understands how hard it is to save a few extra hundred dollars with the cost of living going through the roof. 

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Very Few Applicants Actually Become Permanent Residents

What’s especially frustrating about the increase in application costs is that those payments are not refunded if the application is denied. In fact, many people desperate to get their Green Cards have paid the nearly $2,000 fee several times after being rejected. 

Silhouette of a family immigrating to the United States against an American flag

Source: Adobe Stock

Additionally, rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the hopeful applicant did anything wrong. The USA only approves a certain number of Green Cards every year. In 2022, the USCIS received 1.02 million applications for Green Cards, but they only approved around 732,000 per year.

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The US Debates Immigration

With the 2024 presidential election right around the corner, the debate regarding foreign immigration to the United States is more intense than ever. 

Digital illustration of the White House and an American flag with photographs of Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the foreground

Source: @Global News/YouTube

When former president Donald Trump sat in the Oval Office, he was vehemently against immigration. But when current president Joe Biden took his chair, he reversed several of his nemesis’ restrictive policies. Today, there are Americans who want Trump back in office and his immigration policies back in place, and there are millions of others who believe Biden’s immigration plans are perfectly aligned with the mission of the nation.

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Immigrants Make Up 14% of the US Population

If one were to go back 400 years in time, 100% of the US population would have been made up of immigrants from other countries. Today, several generations later, foreign nationals make up only 14% of the 340 million person population. 

A group of friends smile together while waving a giant American flag

Source: Freepik

However, the US is still home to more foreign-born residents than any other nation on the planet. Therefore, it’s important for all Americans, nationals and non, to be aware of the complicated paperwork, legal fees, application fees, and everything else that comes with migrating to the United States.

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