Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now! (36101)

In a move that is sure to be welcomed by some immigrants, the United States is set to lower some immigrant visa processing fees later this month.

The lower rates will be effective April 13, and immediate relative and family preference and employment-based applicants are among the big winners.

According to the State Department, spouses, children and relatives filing for their immigrant relatives will now pay a processing fee of $230, a savings of $100 over the current fee of $330.

Employers filing for employees will now pay $405, saving them a whopping $315–the current fee is $720. Others who save will be winners of the Diversity Visa Program and applicants who are filing to have their residency status returned. Those fees will be lowered from $440 to $330 for the Diversity Program and from $380 to $275 for returning residents.

All other immigrant visa application fees will be lowered from $305 to $220.

The decrease in fees will also apply to K, or fiance, visa applicants and those seeking treaty investor and trader visas, or the E visa, as it is commonly called. The K visa application fee has been lowered from $350 to $240, while the E visa filing fee will be $270, down from $390.

However, there is no such good news for tourists and others seeking to travel to the United States. Come April 13, applicants for tourist, business, transit, crew member, student, exchange visitor and journalist visas will have to shell out more per application. The fee will increase from $140 to $160, while applicants for petition-based visas will now pay a fee of $190 instead of $150. These visa categories include H (for temporary workers and trainees), L (for intra-company transferees), O (for aliens with extraordinary ability), P (for athletes, artists and entertainers), Q (for international cultural exchange visitors) and R (for religious occupations).

The State Department says the fee adjustments are necessary since it must recover, as much as possible, the cost of processing visas through the collection of application fees. The nonimmigrant visa fee increase, officials explained, will support the addition and expansion of overseas facilities, as well as the additional staff required to meet an increased visa demand.

The U.S. Embassy says the fee adjustments are the result of a December 2011 worldwide cost-of-service study conducted by the Bureau of Consular Affairs in the Department of State. More information on the fees can be found on the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website, travel.state.gov.

Meanwhile, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has begun accepting H-1B petitions subject to the fiscal year (FY) 2013 cap. The congressionally mandated numerical limitation on H-1B petitions for FY 2013 is 65,000, but the first 20,000 H-1B petitions filed on behalf of individuals who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher are exempt from the cap.

U.S. businesses use the H-1B program to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields, such as scientists, engineers and computer programmers.

For more information on the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program and current Form I-129 processing times, visit www.uscis.gov or call the National Customer Service Center at (800) 375-5283.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.