If Comprehensive Immigration Reform ("CIR") passes, millions of people without immigration status will have the opportunity to greatly improve their lives. By applying for a "provisional" immigrant status, they would be able to live and work here legally, eventually with the chance to become permanent residents and later citizens. Those opportunities, however, will not be cheap.
Since CIR is still being debated in Congress, there is no way to know exactly what the costs to get provisional status will be, or even to be sure if there will be a new law. That being said, anyone hoping to benefit from CIR should begin saving now, because under most plans, applying for provisional status will be expensive. Here are some of the costs to expect for provisional immigrant status:
Most propositions for CIR require that anyone filing for provisional status pay a penalty fee. This penalty would be separate from "filing" fees, for the cost of deciding the applications. The penalty, along with requiring provisional immigrants to wait for an extended period to obtain permanent residency, is often raised to counter the argument that provisional status is a form of "amnesty" for people who violated immigration laws.
Under the current Senate plan, the vast majority of people applying for provisional legal status will need to pay a $1000 penalty. Those who can take advantage of a special program for agricultural workers would have to pay a $500 penalty.
On top of the penalty, applicants would need to pay a filing fee, which is intended to cover the costs of the provisional status program. While the filing fee has not been set yet, it is worth keeping in mind current immigration applications cost from a few hundred to over one thousand dollars to file, depending on the benefit. Given that the proving eligibility for provisional immigrant status would require extensive review and documentation, it will likely have a filing fee well over $500, and probably closer to $1000.
Proposals for CIR also require applicants to pay back taxes if they failed to file previously. Under the Senate plan, applicants for provisional status will need to pay outstanding federal taxes, though agricultural workers could wait until they applied for permanent residency.
The Senate plan is vague about the specifics on payment of back taxes. Therefore, it is not clear if applicants for provisional status would have to pay all outstanding taxes first, or there would be some sort of payment option or limit on the years applicants would need to pay. It appears, however, that provisional status applicants who have not paid all their taxes may face a huge expense apart from the immigration fees.
Future immigration benefits:
It is also important to remember that provisional status would only be the first step in a long process to obtain citizenship. These steps too would be very expensive. For example, those in provisional status will eventually be eligible to file for permanent residency- which currently has a filing fee of over $1000. After completing enough years of residency, CIR beneficiaries could file for citizenship, which now costs nearly $700.
It is possible that some financial institutions will have loans available for provisional status applicants, like some of the currently available loans for DACA applicants. Still, people hoping for CIR should not rely on such loans being available, and instead should begin saving now.
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