The US will be just one of only four countries to charge asylum seekers a fee to apply for protection. This emerges from a final directive announced on Friday.
The move is just the latest move by the Trump administration to target and restrict protection for those fleeing their home countries. The US is now joining the ranks of Iran, Fiji and Australia to collect a fee. In the US, an asylum application fee of $ 50 will be charged starting October.
“A fee of $ 50 is equivalent to the fees of these other nations,” said the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) in the final rule released on Friday.
However, an asylum officer who spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said the fee was daunting.
“The bigger problem is that humanitarian requests should be inherently free,” the official said. “The idea of prosecuting refugees – and not helping if they don’t pay – is disgusting.”
Another asylum official said it would cost the agency more than $ 50 to collect the fee, “which does not nearly cover the cost of deciding on an asylum application.”
“This is a punishment against asylum seekers,” added the official.
The asylum fee is just one of many changes included in the rule issued by USCIS, which is funded primarily by applications from immigrants, such as applying for a green card or a work permit. The agency has to review its fee structure every two years.
The final rule is that immigrants who want to naturalize and apply as U.S. citizens must pay more than $ 1,170, a jump from $ 640.
Agency officials said Friday the rule is to increase fees on many applications in order to get back the money they need to stay functional.
“USCIS needs to examine inbound and outbound spending and make adjustments based on that analysis,” Joseph Edlow, USCIS assistant director of policy, said in a statement. “These overdue fee adjustments are necessary to efficiently and fairly administer our nation’s lawful immigration system, secure the homeland, and protect Americans.”
The agency has been in the midst of a financial crisis for several months now, warning that if it does not receive emergency funding from Congress by the end of August, it will take more than 70% of its staff on leave.
The reasons for the funding bottleneck have been debated, however – agency officials cite a massive drop in immigration claims due to the pandemic, while immigrant advocates and experts argue that the Trump administration’s restrictive policies played a role in budgetary issues.