The U.S. State Department announced this week that visa application fees at consular posts abroad will increase on June 4, 2010. The current fee of $131 has been in effect since January 1, 2008 and applies to all visa categories. According to the State Department, security enhancements and processing costs have increased, such that it now will charge different application fees depending upon the visa category. The new fees will range from $140 to $390.

Common employment-related visas that the change will impact are the H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, E-1 and E-2 categories. The application fee for H-1B (specialty occupation workers) and L-1 (intracompany transferees) will increase to $150. The fee for E-1 (treaty traders) and E-2 (treaty investors) will be $390. Employers and employees therefore can plan now for the increased fees for visa applications at U.S. consulates abroad beginning June 4.

Similar to the H and L categories, the remaining petition-based visa categories, which first require the employer to file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the United States before the individual applies for the visa at the consulate abroad, will require the new $150 fee. Those categories are O (extraordinary ability or achievement), P (artists, athletes and entertainers), Q (cultural visitors) and R (religious workers). The new fee for F and M (students) and J (exchange visitors) visas will be $140. Finally, K-1 fiancé(e) visas will require a $350 fee.

For background, except for individuals from certain countries traveling to the U.S. for short-term (90 days maximum) business or pleasure trips and Canadian citizens, most individuals traveling to the U.S. first must obtain visas from a United States consulate abroad before traveling to the United States. Upon entry, the Customs and Border Protection agent then issues an "I-94 Departure Record" confirming the visa class and authorized period of stay. While the terms "visa" and "I-94" sometimes are used interchangeably, they are very different documents. The visa allows a foreign national to present him- or herself for entry to the United States. If allowed to enter, the I-94 then governs for how long and what purpose the person may stay.