Northwest Immigrant Rights Project v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

In October 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) narrowed the standard for individuals to receive waivers of the expensive application fees that the agency charges for immigration benefits, such as visas or naturalization. Immigration application fees can be hundreds of dollars or more. Under a longstanding policy, introduced in 2011, USCIS had followed a simple framework for considering applications for waiver of certain fees, typically allowing individuals to establish eligibility for waivers by showing that they received an income-based government-benefit or that their household income was under 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. In October 2019, however, USCIS narrowed the fee-waiver eligibility standard. Through revisions to the fee-waiver application form, rescission of a 2011 memorandum, and revisions to the agency policy manual, all set to take effect December 2, 2019, USCIS changed the fee-waiver standard such that individuals could no longer establish eligibility by showing receipt of government benefits. Further, to show eligibility through income or financial hardship, individuals would have to meet onerous new documentation requirements.

Representing Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Citizen challenged the agency’s actions in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint alleges that the new form should have undergone notice-and-comment rulemaking; that the agency did not comply with the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, which it tried to use to change the form; and that the changes to the form, its instructions, and manuals are arbitrary and capricious.