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CIS Ombudsman Teleconference: Fee Waivers: How are they working for you? September 30, 2009
1. Computer Generated Evidence – A caller noted that the fee waiver process is very opaque. The fact that USCIS does not accept computer generated evidence is not shared publicly and is not provided in fee waiver guidance or in the denial letter.
USCIS Response: USCIS is aware of this concern. USCIS is developing a fee waiver form, with engaged stakeholders actively contributing. USCIS held two collaborative sessions in 2009 to garner input from stakeholders about the new form and how it may be improved. The fee waiver form is designed to clarify and streamline the fee waiver request process, including what documentation can and should be submitted in support of a fee waiver request. A Federal Register notice and a public comment period, prior to the form’s release, will offer stakeholders another opportunity to provide feedback on the new form.
USCIS’s website, www.uscis.gov, has a page dedicated to fee waiver guidance. This page includes information on specific documentation that may be considered in support of a fee waiver request, the method of submittal, and the adjudication process.
With respect to accepting “computer generated evidence,” such evidence is accepted if there is information on the printout that definitively identifies the agency providing the benefit and the name of the beneficiary. This type of information is necessary to tie the benefit directly to the applicant requesting the fee waiver.
2. Wait Times – Callers noted that there are long wait times for adjudication of fee waiver requests and there is no way to track fee waivers once submitted to USCIS.
USCIS Response: USCIS strives to adjudicate fee waivers within 5 days (unless there is a request for evidence). There was a backlog in the summer of 2009; however, that backlog has been cleared as of September 2009, and processing times for fee waiver requests are currently meeting or exceeding agency goals.
3. Kaplan Class Action Cases – One caller noted that Kaplan class action fee waiver requests are repeatedly rejected at the Phoenix lockbox whereas they were more readily accepted at the Nebraska Service Center.
USCIS Response: USCIS apologizes for any inconvenience our customers may have experienced as a result of an application being improperly rejected. USCIS staff has received additional training, and this problem has been resolved. If not done already, we invite the applicants to resubmit their applications with the fee waiver requests. Should any other issues occur, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283.
4. N-648s Filed with N-400 Fee Waivers – Callers noted that many Form N-648s (Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions) expire when filed with N-400 fee waivers due to processing delays. It is time consuming for applicants, attorneys, and doctors since the N-648 has to be re-certified.
USCIS Response: USCIS is aware of this concern and has reduced its backlog of fee waiver request. These requests are now being processed within 5 days (unless USCIS needs additional information).
5. Forms Eligible for Fee Waivers – Another caller commented that forms eligible for fee waivers do not say that a fee waiver is available. Instead, the form it says you must submit an application fee.
USCIS Response: USCIS’s website, www.uscis.gov, has a page dedicated to fee waiver guidance. By searching “Fee Waiver” you can find more detailed information, to include the forms eligible for a fee waiver in USCIS’s Adjudicator’s Field Manual. As we update our forms instructions, we will provide clarity on the availability of a fee waiver for the individual form.
6. Asylees – A caller noted that fee waiver requests for asylees filed at the Nebraska Service Center have consistently been waived.
USCIS Response: The Nebraska Service Center, which had processed many asylee-based adjustment of status applications, waived fees for a number of asylee applicants due to their low income. The intake function moved to USCIS Lockbox facilities in early January. The USCIS Lockbox facility reviewing the fee waiver request will follow the same guidelines when determining an applicant’s inability to pay.
7. Federal Means-Tested Benefit – A caller wanted to know what part of the regulations specifies qualifications for Federal means-tested benefits.
USCIS Response: Submitting evidence that you are receiving Federal means-tested benefits to support a fee waiver request is not required by regulation. USCIS uses Federal means-tested benefits because it represents another agency’s independent assessment of your economic circumstances. Normally, if you are receiving Federal mans-tested benefits, you will be considered eligible for a fee waiver. Applicants may, however, submit evidence other than proof they are receiving Federal means-tested benefits to request a fee waiver.
Information regarding Federal means-tested benefits can be found on the Health and Human Services website at www.hhs.gov.
8. Service Error - One caller wanted to know how USCIS defines service error so that fee waivers can be requested for Form I-290B.
USCIS Response: 8 CFR 103.5(a)(1)(iii)(B) states that individuals filing Form I-290B must be include a filing fee (unless the person is filing a motion on an asylum decision, which does not require a filing fee). Agency error is determined on a case-by-case basis – what constitutes agency error in on instance, may not in another. Also, USCIS and applicants sometimes differ on what is considered to be an error. USCIS is currently developing a refund policy that would allow for a refund of fees in cases where USCIS made an administrative error.
If you cannot afford the filing fee for a motion, you may request a fee waiver (note: the filing fee for a motion may be waived only if the filing fee for the underlying application or petition can be waived). Fee waiver information can be found on our website by typing “Fee Waiver” in the search box.
9. Penalty of Perjury – A caller asked why sworn affidavits are rejected when they do not include the language that they are signed under penalty of perjury. The caller understood that only unsworn affidavits are required to include that language.
USCIS Response: Since an affidavit is a sworn statement made before an officer authorized to witness the statement, such as a notary public, language about “under the penalty of perjury” is not necessary and, therefore, should not be the basis for denying a fee waiver request. However, if you are submitting an unsworn declaration, it must contain the language, “I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.” If you believe that your application or petition was rejected incorrectly, please contact the Lockbox at Lockboxsupport@dhs.gov.
10. Repeated Denials – Callers stated that there have been more denials in recent months for fee waiver requests for customers on SSI, who are disabled, homeless, elderly, and on public assistance. Can USCIS provide clearer guidance on fee waiver adjudications?
USCIS Response: USCIS will consider the applicant’s age and disability when determining eligibility for a fee waiver, where it prevents the applicant from earning an income. Disabilities covered by Social Security Income can be supported by the annual letter provided by the Social Security Administration. Other disabilities should be documented with a letter from a medical professional and should state the nature of the disability and that it prevents or severely inhibits the applicant’s ability to earn income. If applicants are permanently or temporarily destitute, or confined to a nursing home and do not have cash or assets to cover the fee without incurring a substantial hardship, these will be taken into consideration when processing fee waiver requests. Situations such as these may be documented in letters from the nursing home, community shelters, churches and other community-based organization indicating the applicant is receiving some benefit from the organization. This guidance will be in the new Fee Waiver Form Instructions.