Records Not Revenue Celebrates "Small Victory"

Today, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published a final rule that included a reduction in fees for the USCIS Genealogy Program. Under the new rule, a Genealogy Program Index Search will drop from $65 to $30, if filed online. Similarly, Genealogy Program Record Requests filed online will now cost $30 per record. This is a 54% cut in fees to access the historical records held by USCIS.

The records held by the USCIS Genealogy Program include a vast array of immigration and naturalization documents for millions of immigrants to the United States. The new rule dictates that Genealogy Program records that have already been digitized – a set that currently includes only Alien Registration Forms (AR-2s) and Certificate Files (C-Files) created before about 1944 – will be provided with the results of an Index Search, with no additional fee. Visa Files, Registry Files, high-numbered C-Files, and A-Files all remain in paper form.

The decision was hailed by records access advocates, who caution that there is still much work to be done.

“Obviously we are very pleased with this fee reduction, but we want to stress that this is a small victory,” said Rich Venezia, founder of Records Not Revenue. “We remain very concerned about the backlogs at the USCIS Genealogy Program, with people waiting more than a year for an Index Search and even longer for a Record Request. The rule doesn’t properly address how this backlog will be fixed.”

Records Not Revenue came together in 2019 as a non-partisan project coordinated by an ad hoc group of genealogists, historians, and records access advocates. Since its inception, Records Not Revenue has fought attempts by USCIS to raise fees for the Genealogy Program, and works to shine a light on customer service issues. It also calls on USCIS to work with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to transfer these historical records to NARA's custody, where they belong. USCIS remains years behind in transferring its historical records. Additionally, millions of records held by the Genealogy Program have yet to be scheduled for transfer, so their status remains in limbo.

“The fee reduction announcement shows that grassroots advocacy works,” said Renée Carl, who volunteers with Records Not Revenue. “Hundreds of genealogists, hobbyists, and historians took the time to send comments to USCIS, and they let their members of Congress know about the issue. This accomplishment would not have happened without the groundswell of support.”

In the coming weeks, Records Not Revenue will refocus their efforts on ensuring the spotlight stays on what happens next to these invaluable records, which tell the story of late 19th and 20th Century immigration to the United States.