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How Much Does It Cost to Become an American?

The cost of a naturalization application is still $595, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced last week. The agency decided against a proposed fee hike on naturalization applications after the fee increase was discouraged in a public comment period. Of course, that doesn’t mean all fees were frozen: A number of fees, such as the fee to apply for a green card or petition for an alien relative, were increased.

About 90 percent of the USCIS budget comes from fees, which are adjusted every two years. Naturalization is an expensive process, and estimates put the cost to the agency at $655 per application. But as many fees continually go up, immigrants rights advocates argue they become untenable for applicants who make little money. At $595, naturalization fees were already difficult to find for some immigrants, who also must hand over $85 for biometric fees (that fee was increased by $5 this year).

The naturalization fee is the final step to becoming a citizen, after immigrants have lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for at least five years — sooner if a spouse or parent is a U.S. citizen. But some immigrants are delayed because they can’t afford the fee, Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement today:

“We applaud the Administration for not increasing the price of U.S. citizenship and putting a halt to the exorbitant fee increases that have become a barrier for immigrants who are eager to become Americans. … The Obama Administration is demonstrating a commitment to encourage immigrants to become citizens, and that is ultimately good for our democracy.”

Other fees were increased, which immigrants rights advocates argue deters foreigners from seeking legal routes to immigrate to the U.S. “It begs the question of Congress: If we want these people to take these steps, we have to make sure that we’re not pricing them out of their reach,” Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza told USA Today when the fee increases were proposed in June.

A number of fees were increased. Green card application fees will increase from $930 to $985, while certain temporary legal status application fees will go from $710 to $1,130. Most applicants have to wait long periods to actually enter the U.S. — if they are allowed entry at all — even after shelling out the $985 fee.

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