Comment: Thatcher And H1Bs And The Poor
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recently passed away, we examine below the direct line from her actions to USCIS's appalling record of service to employers (such as H1B sponsors).

At the time Mrs. Thatcher assumed the Prime Ministership, the government of the UK was in severe financial troubles - she is widely credited with turning the finances of the UK around. Among many other things to right the UK's finances, she instituted, probably for the first time in a major way in a major western country, a dramatic expansion of user fees for government services. We believe taxation is an honest way that a government confronts its citizens with the cost of running the country because straight forward taxation permits the citizenry to have an open debate as to the level of taxation that it is willing to support, and forces that level upon those in government as an overall limit to the public purse. There are many subterfuges to get around taxation as a way to raise money for the government, and Mrs. Thatcher was a master at many of them. User fees are among the most insidious of these "tax-which-isn't-a-tax" tools of political charlatans, and regrettably, these have become a part of Mrs. Thatcher's legacy to the world. Her terrible idea of dramatically increasing user fees charged for government services was imported into the US by former President Ronald Reagan, the pervasive results of which are seen everywhere around us. Governments throughout the US: federal, state, and every level of local government, now blithely charge every manner of user fees for basic and necessary services, such as to bring a lawsuit, which were once provided for from general taxation, and for which there is no private competition to hold down prices charged. Perhaps the best case study of user fees run amok is USCIS, because its victims are immigrants without a voice in our government, the abuses visited upon them consequent to USCIS's ability to charge fees and the immigrants suffer in silence. There are many volumes to write on this subject, but let the following serve merely as illustrative of the horrors of USCIS's fees.

  • Studies have shown that a small but significant minority of permanent residents are prevented from filing for citizenship purely on financial grounds. Imagine that - this most precious right is denied to someone purely because they are poor for the time being. America is a country, not a country club.
  • Because a taxpayer-funded agency gets feedback from the legislature with every budget cycle, its managers can guide the affairs of the agency. The managers can also secure in the knowledge that those whom they manage will cooperate with the enthusiasm consequent to a public endeavor supported by Congress. Instead, DHS routinely gets low scores for employee satisfaction amongst various government departments (we have not seen DHS scores broken down by sub-component).
  • Front-line employees in taxpayer-funded agencies are aware of the perils of bad behavior, users of the agency who have recourse to Congress should abusive behavior become routine, can and will petition Congress for a remedy. Instead, with user fees, the executive branch is shielded from Congressional checks where it counts - in the wallet. Every immigration practitioner can recite many horror stories of shabby treatment afforded to immigrants by USCIS personnel.
  • Since the total cost of obtaining immigration benefits rises due to USCIS fees, the proportion of petitioners who can afford representation drops. Put another way, if USCIS were not to charge fees for benefits, more immigrants could afford to use immigration attorney services.
  • A taxpayer-funded agency is responsive to the legislature, USCIS is not as responsive. Every Congressional office (including those of the anti-immigrationists) can attest to how hard it is to get USCIS to grant a benefit under the INA. Immigration is usually among the highest in case volume among constituent services demanded and supplied by Congressional offices.
  • Without user fees, efficient managers in USCIS can show their stuff - overall performance between government departments can be studied and best practices adopted by all. With user fees, there is no incentive to be efficient, instead inefficiency is rewarded in the form of lavish staffs. This is clearly seen in the immoral practice USCIS has adopted - that of providing "premium processing" - it's bad enough that USCIS charges fees, now its hapless users have to pay extra in the form of "premium processing fees" to obtain what used to be routine service before.

A few quick notes on topics that come up in connection with abolishing USCIS user fees:

  • Should Congress feel that it is essential as a matter of public policy for immigrants to contribute to the public purse, a straight-forward fine levied on the immigrant and payable to the US Treasury is preferable to a user fee payable to USCIS. Those who wish to craft a financial demand from immigrants into CIR should not go the user fee route, there is a cleaner way to achieve the same fiscal result, without the moral complications.
  • Even if user fees are charged by an agency, provision must be made for those who can only proceed in forma pauperis. In fairness, we commend USCIS for creating a form for the financially unfortunate to ask for fee amelioration, thus institutionalizing a necessary band-aid to the grievous injury that user fees actually are.
  • Those who think that our consistent hand-wringing over USCIS fees is un-called for should note that this topic is of critical importance - more than one immigration statute has had to go back to the House and back to the Senate because those drafting the bill forgot that user fees are a form of tax and that our Constitution wisely specifies a special process for taxes. We call upon all those interested in immigration to the US to take up the cause of abolishing USCIS user fees - to our knowledge we are so far joined only by the Catholic Church in this call (among major institutions). Those who think that USCIS user fees are here forever and that it is foolhardy to wish otherwise may want to take a look at a recent article in Governing magazine, which says in pertinent part: "...there are legal principles dictating that user fees be used for the service provided -- not just dumped into the general fund. The National Conference of State Legislatures warned about this more than a decade ago when it stated, 'If user charges exceed the cost of providing services, or if separate accounting is not used, governments are vulnerable to court rulings that such charges are taxes.' In 2010, for example, the Oklahoma state Supreme Court struck down court fees as unconstitutional because the state was using them to support non-court related activities."

While recognizing her many virtues, we condemn Mrs. Thatcher's user fee idea, and its adoption by Mr. Reagan. We urge Congress to begin to do the right thing, and provide for USCIS from general funds. Share your thoughts by writing to

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