Proposed Fee Hikes at USCIS

by Linda Okazaki

Dear Friends in the Genealogy and Research Community,

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently proposed a 492% increase in fees for access to historical records held by the USCIS Genealogy Program. Many of these records should already be publicly accessible. USCIS is essentially holding the documents hostage, demanding individuals pay exorbitant fees to access documents of our immigrant ancestors. This has a tremendous impact on anyone engaging in 20th century immigration research, most notably Asian immigrants.

Please share this post with genealogical societies and historical organizations and every family historian and researcher you know. Become part of the national effort among the genealogy community to fight these increases by sharing your opinions and a link to the on Facebook, twitter, and other social media.

The price increases apply to the A-files, such as the one excerpted below. Instead of paying an already high $65 for a search, which has no guarantee of results, we would have to pay an exorbitant $240! If there is a paper file to be copied, it would be additional $385!

NOW is the time to make your voice heard! By submitting a comment, you can help prevent this unjust fee hike from becoming a reality. All researchers should care about the issues involved, even if your research does not include these records. What can be done to one set of records can be done to others!

Summary of the Issues:

  • Access: These fees – starting at $240 and up to a whopping $625 for a single file – are beyond the means of most researchers, and in fact, most everyday Americans. The fees are even more inexplicable given that USCIS refers most genealogy record requests to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program for processing. How can this be legal? If these requests are FOIA requests, researchers should not pay any fees other than standard FOIA fees. When we pay these fees to request our ancestors’ A-files, there is no guarantee we will get anything back, so paying $240 is outrageous.
  • Transparency: USCIS proposes a raise in its two Genealogy Program fees from $65 to $240 and $385 but gives virtually no explanation. These same fees already tripled in 2016! How can this agency say such fees are necessary to cover costs when they do not identify nor breakdown the costs of the program? Fee increases of 269% and 492% require an explanation; in this regard the proposed rule is wholly inadequate.
  •  Efficiency: Why is USCIS still holding on to and charging fees for access to records that should already be at the National Archives (NARA), or which already exist at NARA but are withheld from the public due to restrictions placed by USCIS? Do USCIS and NARA have any plans to transfer these historical records and make them available at NARA?
  •  Visa Files and Registry Files, both subject to the proposed $625 total fee, became eligible for transfer to NARA in April 2019. Where are they? Does USCIS plan to collect $625 apiece when these records should already be available to the public at NARA?
  •  Alien Registration Forms, subject to the proposed $240 fee, already exist on microfilm at NARA but remain unavailable because of a USCIS restriction. A-Files of immigrants born more than 100 years ago should be at NARA, as per its 2009 schedule. Why must we still request A-files from USCIS for new fees of up to $625?

What can you do? Make your voice heard in 3 easy steps:

Step 1: Review the proposed rule here, and jump to the Genealogy Program section here.

Step 2: Write your comments, addressing the issues listed here or any issue you think is important. See for thoughts on how to begin.

Step 3: Send your comments BEFORE 16 DECEMBER 2019 to:
• Federal Rulemaking Portal and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 and follow instructions for submitting comments

• Send a copy of your comments to your US Senators and Representative, and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. Tell them you care about preserving access to federal records!

If these records become restricted, what records will be next?

Sign up to stay informed on this important effort:

In the meantime, be sure to order your A-files, C-files, and AR2s, in case the prices do skyrocket.

Most Sincerely,

Linda Harms Okazaki