International air passengers arriving in the United States are subject to an immigration inspection to ensure that they have legal entry and immigration documents. Immigration inspection activities are conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The immigration fee is set in statute at $7 per passenger. The collections are available to pay for all expenses incurred in providing inspection and pre-inspection services. The statute also directed the agency to report to the Congress every 2 years on the status of the Immigration User Fee Account, including balances, and recommend fee adjustments that may be required to ensure that the collections equal, as closely as possible, the cost of providing these services. However, ICE has not yet analyzed air passenger immigration inspection fee data to identify what fee adjustments, if any, are necessary.
Passengers pay the immigration inspection fee when they purchase their airline tickets. Fee collectionswhich GAO estimates were about $600 million in fiscal year 2010are available to ICE and CBP to pay for costs incurred in providing inspection and pre-inspection services, and are intended to be divided between ICE and CBP according to the costs of the immigration inspection activities for which each agency is responsible. Air passenger immigration inspection fee collections do not recover the total costs of these inspections. However, because immigration inspection costs and collections have not recently been comprehensively reviewed, it is unknown (1) whether collections are appropriately distributed between ICE and CBP and (2) the extent to which fee collections fail to cover air passenger immigration inspection costs, especially for ICEs inspection activities.
Air passenger immigration fee collections did not fully cover CBPs costs in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. According to ICE officials, although ICE does not track air passenger costs separately from sea passenger costs, ICEs portion of total air and sea passenger collections did not cover ICEs total air and sea passenger costs in fiscal years 2007 through 2009. As a result, in recent years, CBP and ICE have relied on general fund appropriations (in fiscal year 2010 alone, this amounted to over $120 million for CBP and an unknown amount for ICE) to help fund activities for which these agencies have statutory authority to fund with user fees.
Air Passenger Immigration Inspection Fee Costs and Collections
Fiscal year 2008
Fiscal year 2009
Fiscal year 2010
Air passenger immigration inspection collections
$115,522,669 (GAO estimate)a
$98,917,337 (GAO estimate)a
Air passenger immigration inspection costs
Source: GAO analysis of ICE and CBP data.
aBecause ICE does not separately analyze air passenger collections data, GAO estimated ICEs collections using CBPs data and the user fee allocation rate between ICE and CBP. This estimate does not replace the actual data which would be found in a fee review.
bICE provided immigration inspection cost data for both air and sea passengers, but not specific data for air passengers.
The air passenger immigration inspection fee has not been recently comprehensively reviewed, and the rate, which is set in statute, has not been adjusted since fiscal year 2002. As GAO reported in May 2008, regular, comprehensive fee reviews could prevent misalignment between fees and the activities they support. Comparing ICE and CBP cost and collection information could help determine the extent to which collections cover costs and the appropriate share of collections for each agency. Further, GAO reported in its May 2008 User Fee Design Guide that regular reviews also help to increase awareness about program costsand therefore increase incentives to reduce costs where possible.
As GAO reported in September 2007, while CBP reviewed its share of air passenger inspection costs, ICE had not reviewed its share of these costs, and ICE and CBP do not have a process to determine how the immigration user fee would be split between them. In that report, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security report on ICEs activity costs to ensure the immigration fee is divided between ICE and CBP according to their respective immigration inspection activity costs and to develop a legislative proposal to adjust the air passenger immigration inspection fee if it was found to not recover the costs of inspection activities. The Department of Homeland Security agreed with GAOs recommendations.
Since 2006, GAO has requested that ICE and CBP provide a comprehensive review showing the extent to which fee collections cover their air passenger immigration inspection costs. CBP provided GAO with this analysis for its share of the immigration inspection activities. ICE only provided aggregate costs for air and sea ports of entry. Agency officials said that ICE cannot provide this information because it does not separately analyze air passenger amounts. Absent such information, the extent to which total air passenger fee collections cover total air passenger costs, and whether these collections are appropriately distributed between ICE and CBP, is unknown.
As of January 2012, ICE officials said they were evaluating fiscal year 2010 data and did not know whether collections covered costs for that year.
To determine the extent to which air passenger immigration inspection fees are aligned with the costs of inspection activities, which could enable fee adjustments to reduce reliance on general fund appropriations, Congress may wish to require the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to fully implement the recommendations from GAOs September 2007 report, including to:
Taking these four actions would allow ICE and CBP to better align air passenger immigration inspection fee revenue with the costs of providing these services and achieve cost savings by reducing the reliance on general fund appropriations.
In September 2007, GAO recommended that, if air passenger immigration inspection activity costs exceed collections, the Secretary of Homeland Security should develop a legislative proposal in consultation with Congress to adjust the immigration fee to recover costs as closely as possible, per statute. As of November 2011, this recommendation remains open pending the completion of ICEs cost study.
In September 2007, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security complete development of and report on ICEs activity costs to ensure the air passenger immigration inspection fee is divided between ICE and CBP according to their respective proportion of air passenger immigration inspection activity costs. As of November 2011, this recommendation remains open pending the completion of ICEs cost study.
The information contained in this analysis is based on findings from the products listed in the related GAO products section as well as additional work GAO conducted. GAO reviewed documents from ICE and CBP. In addition, GAO requested fiscal year 2010 cost and collections data from ICE and CBP and used data from CBP.
GAO provided a draft of this report section for to the Department of Homeland Security for review and comment. The department agreed with the material facts as presented. ICE supplied GAO with its Immigration User Fee Account cost studies for fiscal years 2007, 2008, and 2009, which showed its combined immigration inspection fee costs for air and sea inspections. ICE said that it will update its methodology for determining Immigration User Fee Account air and sea costs and will conduct additional analysis to separate the air and sea immigration fee collections and costs. ICE estimates that the revised analysis for fiscal year 2010 will be completed by March 31, 2012. Further, ICE said that it will continue to work with GAO and CBP to close the remaining recommendations outlined in GAO reports concerning the Immigration User Fee Account.
For additional information about this area, contact Susan J. Irving at
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