Romney Expresses Concern about 500% Fee Increase to Obtain Genealogy Records

Proposed fee hike would greatly inhibit Utahns’ access to family history records

WASHINGTON— U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today expressed his concern about a rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security that would place a 500% fee increase on the delivery of family history records obtained through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This rule would greatly inhibit Utahns’ access to these records.

The full text of his letter to Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Cuccinelli is below.

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Cuccinelli:

I am concerned about the Department’s November 14, 2019 proposed rule to raise fees significantly for the Genealogy Program administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Genealogy Program is essential for genealogists, family historians, and other researchers who acquire citizenship and alien records of deceased immigrants who arrived in the United States between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. These records allow Americans to trace their roots for a better understanding of who they are, and where they came from.

Any increase in the Genealogy Program’s two separate user fees should be done after careful consideration that it would not unduly burden those who rely on the records. The Genealogy Index Search Request (search fee) is used to determine whether USCIS possesses any records on the requested immigrant and, if such records exist, to capture the identifier of each record. The second fee is the Genealogy Records Request (records fee), which is used to obtain copies of USCIS’s historical records.

When the Genealogy Program began in 2008, its initial fees ranged from just $20 to $35. In 2016, USCIS raised both fees to $65. DHS’s proposed rule would raise the search fee 269% from $65 to $240, and the records fee 492% from $65 to $385. If this rule takes effect, a family historian would need to pay $625 to search and obtain a single file on a relative.

I understand USCIS’s budget relies primarily on user fees, and the southern border crisis continues to strain the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission. However, I am concerned that drastically raising the Genealogy Program’s fees would harm genealogists across the United States without addressing your budgetary concerns. While interest has grown over the last few years, genealogy research remains primarily a hobby sensitive to financial constraints. In fact, after raising fees to $65 in 2016, total requests fell by nearly 30%. The proposed rule’s prohibitive fees could make it nearly impossible for an average person to access the Genealogy Program, leading to fewer requests and ultimately mitigating the proposed rule’s intention to fund the USCIS.

With these concerns in mind, I am requesting answers to the following by no later than December 18, 2019:

1. What is the annual amount of user fees collected by the Genealogy Program from 2015-2018?

2. Please provide the budgets for the Genealogy Program from 2015-2019.

3. Please identify any changes to the Genealogy Program’s expenses since 2015 and, explanations for why those expenses changed.

4. Are fees collected by the Genealogy Program used to support USCIS functions other than expenditures for the Genealogy Program?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.