Yet many immigrant rights supporters blast the increase as a financial barrier to citizenship. Online filing means little to a family that cannot afford it, they say.
The changes represent the most dramatic increase in nearly two decades. In 1988, visa fees spiked 76 percent. At least a quarter of the 3,900 comments received since the new fees were proposed in February criticized the increase.
"I think it’s going to hit a lot of people hard. Will it prevent people from applying? Probably not. But will it be really, really difficult? My guess is yes," said Steve Navarre, an immigration attorney in Des Plaines. "It’s kind of like gasoline prices." Starting July 30, the cost of applying for U.S. citizenship will climb to $595 from $330.
Add to that a blanket $80 fee - up from $70 previously - to cover fingerprints and a background check.
Becoming a green-card holding, legal permanent resident now will run $930, up from the $905 fee proposed in February and the current rate of $325.
The upswing for adults comes as the cost of visas for children younger than 14 dropped slightly. Sponsoring a child’s visa for legal residency will cost $600, less than the $805 floated earlier this year. The $80 security check boosts the cost for an adult seeking legal residency to $1,010 and a child to $680.
"We tried to come up with a formula where we would still not lose money and be able to survive but we weren’t hurting families," Cabrera said.
Still, many advocates contend such fees could close a door to immigrants fording proper, legal channels.
"It’s a shame because they are putting up barriers. This is sending a wrong signal," said Karla Avila of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
The fee changes come as immigration hits a critical crossroads.
President Bush on Tuesday stumped for the immigration reform package now before the Senate.
The bipartisan compromise would beef up border security, create a guest worker program and require more stringent workplace enforcement. The bill also would allow an estimated 12 million immigrants living here illegally to seek citizenship after 13 years and $5,000 in fines.
As the hotly contested debate continues in Congress and city halls nationwide, more immigrants are racing to get their citizenship now.
In March, federal immigration officials in Chicago received a record 5,560 requests for citizenship. In the same month in 2006, 3,566 requests were filed, and 3,537 filed in March 2005.