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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Price Hike! USCIS Files 492% Price Increase
This image is the Reclaim the Records newsletter explaining how the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) proposed an unprecedented 492% increase in fees for researchers who want copies of historical records held by their Genealogy Program. Here is a screenshot of the USCIS webpage for genealogy.
Here is what the USCIS has to say about a change in fees:
USCIS Genealogy Transition to the National Records Center
Because we value quality service, we want to improve efficiency and shorten the wait time for our Genealogy Program. This is why the program will transition from the agency’s Records Division in Washington, D.C. to the National Records Center (NRC) in Lee’s Summit, Missouri by Jan. 1, 2018. 
Frequently Asked Questions

Will fees change?
No, fees will remain the same - $65 for each request or file type requested.
Why is there a difference in what USCIS says on their website and what is outlined in the Reclaim the Records newsletter? An explanation from the Records, Not Revenue website gives further information.

Here is a screenshot of the Proposed fee hike:
This revenue change is politically motivated and specifically targets immigrants and their families. Is there a fee hike proposed despite the lack of candor in the USCIS website on this issue? Here is what is in this long Federal Register document:

Table 1 summarizes the IEFA and biometric services fee schedule that took effect on December 23, 2016. DHS is proposing to change the current fee schedule as a result of the FY 2019/2020 fee review. The table excludes statutory fees that DHS cannot adjust or can only adjust by inflation.
Table 1—Non-Statutory IEFA Immigration Benefit Request Fees
Form No.22TitleFee
G-1041Genealogy Index Search Request$65
G-1041AGenealogy Records Request65

You need to read a long way down in the above document to see what is actually happening. But if you do, you will see that the overall fee hike is in essence hidden in the long list of other fee increases.

Here is one proposed increase.

A. Fee Schedule With DACA Renewal Fees
Scenarios A and B produced fee levels in between the highest and lowest scenarios. Table 21 lists the individual fees for each. These fees are lower than in some scenarios because DACA fees recover part of USCIS costs. Scenario B produces lower fees than Scenario A because it has a lower budget by excluding the ICE transfer.

Table 21—Proposed Fee Schedule With DACA Renewal Fee With and Without the ICE Transfer

G-1041 Genealogy Index Search Request240240
G-1041A Genealogy Records Request385385
Further searching in the document shows the real impact of this fee increase:

DHS proposes fee increases to file both types of genealogy requests: Form G-1041, Genealogy Index Search Request and Form G-1041A, Genealogy Record Request. The fee to file Form G-1041 would increase from $65 to $240, an increase of $175 (269 percent increase). The fee for Form G-1041A would increase from $65 to $385, an increase of $320 (492 percent). Based on DHS records for calendar years 2013 to 2017, there was an annual average of 3,840 genealogy index search requests made using Form G-1041 and there was an annual average of 2,152 genealogy records requests made using Form G-1041A. DHS does not have sufficient data on the requestors for the genealogy forms to determine if entities or individuals submitted these requests. 
DHS has previously determined that individuals usually make requests for historical records.[201] If professional genealogists and researchers submitted such requests in the past, they did not identify themselves as commercial requestors and, therefore, DHS could not separate these data from the dataset. Genealogists typically advise clients on how to submit their own requests. For those that submit requests on behalf of clients, DHS does not know the extent to which they can pass along the fee increases to their individual clients. Therefore, DHS currently does not have sufficient data to definitively assess the impact on small entities for these requests. 
However, DHS must still recover the full costs of this program. As stated in the preamble to this proposed rule, reducing the filing fee for any one benefit request submitted to DHS simply transfers the additional cost to process this request to other immigration and naturalization filing fees. 
For this proposed fee rule, DHS proposes to expand the use of electronic genealogy requests to encourage requesters to use the electronic versions of Form G-1041 and Form G-1041A. DHS also proposes to change the search request process so that USCIS may provide requesters with electronic records, if they exist, in response to the initial index request. These proposed changes may reduce the time it takes to request and receive genealogy records and, in some cases, it would eliminate the need to make multiple search requests and submit separate fees. Moreover, DHS notes that providing digital records in response to a Form G-1041 request may reduce the number of Form G-1041A requests that would be filed because there would already be a copy of the record if it was previously digitized. As a result, the volume of Form G-1041A requests USCIS receives may decrease, though DHS is unable to estimate by how much. DHS requests comments from the public on the impacts to small entities of the proposed fee increases to the genealogy forms.
Reading through more of the very long document shows that the fee increase will not be affected by the digitization and electronic availability of the records. This quote shows that USCIS intends to charge the fees for looking up the records in their electronic index. This is in Section 103.40
(f) Index search. Requestors who are unsure whether USCIS has any record of their ancestor, or who suspect a record exists but cannot identify that record by number, may submit a request for index search. An index search will determine the existence of responsive historical records. If no record is found, USCIS will notify the requestor accordingly. If records are found, USCIS will give the requestor electronic copies of records stored in digital format for no additional fee. For records found that are stored in paper format, USCIS will give the requestor the search results, including the type of record found and the file number or other information identifying the record. The requestor can use index search results to submit a Genealogy Records Request. 
(g) Processing of paper record copy requests. This service is designed for requestors who can identify a specific record or file to be retrieved, copied, reviewed, and released. Requestors may identify one or more files in a single request.
Rather than make these historically valuable public records available even when digital copies exist, the government wants to impose a specific tax to enhance revenue.

Please review the Records, Not Revenue website. Here is a copy of the summary of the issues that is available in PDF format.

Speak Out to Preserve Access to Genealogy Records!

U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently proposed a 492% increase in fees
required to access historical records held by the USCIS Genealogy Program. Many of these records
should already be publicly accessible. USCIS is essentially holding them hostage, demanding individuals pay exorbitant fees to access documents of our immigrant ancestors. 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 type 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 hobbyist researchers, and in fact, most everyday Americans. The fees are
even more inexplicable given that USCIS refers the majority of 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.

• 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 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?

o 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?

o Alien Registration Forms, subject to the proposed $240 fee, exist on microfilm at NARA
but remain unavailable because of a USCIS restriction.

o A-Files of immigrants born more than 100 years ago should be at NARA, as per the
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, specifically mentioning the Genealogy Program and addressing the
issues listed here or any issue you think is important. See for starters.
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; and
• 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!
Sign up to stay informed on this effort: and learn more here.

Amplify your voice! Please share this with genealogical societies, historical societies, and
every family historian and researcher you know!

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