Frankly, I’d forgotten that USCIS announced in September 2010 that there would be a new “Immigrant Visa DHS Domestic Processing Fee” of $165. (See the Federal Register). USCIS is now beginning to collect it.
It will be charged to persons who have applied for immigrant visas at U.S. Consulates abroad and who “receive” the approval (i.e., immigrant visa package) on or after February 1, 2013. (See the USCIS Press Release and the USCIS Immigrant Fee website).
What you get for $165 is mostly paper shuffling. USCIS describes it this way: the fee is for “the transfer of documents from one government entity to another.” Basically, the U.S. Consulate creates an immigrant visa package when a visa is approved. The applicant then carries the package on the plane to the U.S., where it’s handed to the inspector at the airport. After admitting the new immigrant, the inspector ships the package to a USCIS Service Center, where the Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card, is created and mailed to the applicant. Then the package is shipped to the USCIS National Records Center, where it is made part of the immigrant’s “A-file.” The fee covers this paper shuffling. (See the Federal Register).
USCIS had originally requested that the State Department collect the fee. But that apparently didn’t work out. Instead, applicants will pay online at a USCIS website after they receive their visa package and before they fly to the U.S. Payment can be by a U.S. check or by debit/credit card. Payment can be made by a third party. (See the USCIS Immigrant Fee website).