The Department of State (DOS) proposed sharply raising key visa and processing fees, in a proposed rule published at 86 FR 74018 (December 29, 2021). For example, the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fee for F-1, J-1, and other non-petition-based visas would see a 53% hike, and the MRV fee for petition-based categories such as H-1B and O visas would jump 63%. Also included in the fee hike proposal is a whopping increase of 325% for applications for a waiver of the INA 212(e) two-year home residence requirement that many J-1 exchange visitor participants are subject to.

DOS accepted public comments on the proposed fee hikes until February 28, 2022. NAFSA joined other higher education associations in a February 28, 2022 comment letter led by the American Council on Education (ACE). The comment letter stressed the importance of international students and scholars to U.S. higher education and to the overall economic recovery following the pandemic, and urged DOS "to couple any increase in fees with improvements in efficiency and processing times."

This table presents the proposed fee changes:

Item Current Proposed $ Change % Change
NIV* non-petition-based (except E) $160 $245 $85 53%
NIV* petition-based (H, L, O, P, Q, R) $190 $310 $120 63%
NIV* E visa $205 $485 $280 137%
Border Crossing Card $160 $245 $85 53%
Waiver of INA 212(e) 2-year home residence requirement $120 $510 $390 325%

* NIV = Nonimmigrant Visa

Selected background from the Federal Register notice

Recent history of visa fee hikes

"The Department last adjusted certain NIV fees and the J-Waiver fee as part of an interim final rule dated August 28, 2014, and those changes to the Schedule of Fees went into effect September 6, 2014 (79 FR 51247). A final rule regarding those fees was published on August 25, 2015 (80 FR 51464). The fees for non-petition-based NIVs (except E category) and other petition-based NIVs (H, L, O, P, Q, and R category NIVs), have not been updated since April 13, 2012 (77 FR 18907). A final rule adjusting these fees was published on September 17, 2012 (FR 57012). Non-petition-based NIVs constitute a significant majority of the overall NIV applications."

Fluctuation in visa demand and impact on unit cost for services

"...the proposed NIV fee recommendations use a 10-year average for demand to reduce volatility in unit costs and to prevent the extreme spikes in unit costs that would result if the Department used only demand figures from the lowest levels during the pandemic to set the fee. Because of the dramatic drop in visa demand experienced in FY 2020 due to the pandemic and projected to continue in the coming years, the 10-year average volume used in this calculation is still much lower than demand figures used to calculate this fee in prior models. As a result, the calculated unit cost for these services, which is the total service cost divided by the total service volume, has increased, and has led to the proposed visa application processing fee increases."

Non-petition-based NIVs and border crossing cards

"The Department proposes to increase the non-petition based NIV fee from $160 to $245 per application. Non-petition-based NIVs include a variety of nonimmigrant visas, such as those for business and tourist travel (B1/B2); students and exchange visitors (F, M, and J); crew and transit visas (C and D); representatives of foreign media (I), and other country-specific visa classes, as well as BCCs for applicants age 15 or older who are citizens of and resident in Mexico. "Non-petition" means that these visas do not require separate requests known as "petitions" to be adjudicated prior to the visa application to establish that the individual meets certain qualifying criteria for the relevant status ( e.g. , that the beneficiary of the petition has the relevant familial relationship to the petitioner). Non-petition based NIVs make up nearly 90 percent of all NIV workload. "

Petition-based NIVs

"The Department also proposes to increase fees for all petition based NIVs related to employment in the United States from $190 to $310. Petition-based NIVs include categories for temporary workers and trainees (H); intracompany transferees (L); aliens of extraordinary ability (O); athletes, artists, and entertainers (P); international cultural exchange participants (Q); and religious workers (R). These NIVs require an approved petition from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prior to applying for a visa and demand significantly more work by the consular officer than non-petition based NIVs."

INA 212(e) waiver applications:

"The Department proposes to increase the J-Waiver fee from $120 to $510. This fee was last adjusted through rulemaking in 2014 based on the results of the 2012 CoSM. Certain categories of exchange visitors (J-1) are subject to a two-year home-country physical presence requirement. Exchange visitor program participants who are subject to the two-year home-country physical requirement must apply for a waiver either to stay in the United States beyond the end date of their program or if they want to submit an application to USCIS for a change in visa status. Otherwise, the exchange visitor is required to return to their home country for an aggregate of at least two years before applying for another visa to the United States. This two-year residency requirement upon request and approval may be waived in certain circumstances and the Department proposes increasing the associated fee for processing these waiver requests.

The costs for this service have increased while demand has decreased since the last fee adjustment. Since this fee was last updated, CA discovered that not all costs for J-Waivers were being recorded correctly in the Department's GFMS. As a result, the Visa Office worked with CA's Comptroller offices to identify and assign costs correctly. Prior to this update, no operating costs, particularly those for contractors spending time on this service, were recorded and assigned to the Visa Office's Waiver Review division, the division responsible for adjudicating these waivers.

After identifying and properly assigning these costs, all operating costs for J-Waivers have now been properly recorded, including contract costs related to this service. This update has resulted in more accurate cost assignment to this service and has led to an increase of related compensation and non-compensation costs. These cost increases are primarily attributed to the increases in level of effort that have recently been identified and properly assigned to this service. That combined with a significant decrease in demand led to an increase in the calculated unit cost. The unit cost increase is significant because of the increased costs and the relatively low volume for this service during the 10-year demand timeframe used to calculate this fee."