Top Tips for Filling in Immigration Forms

Consistency, dealing with name changes, and other advice for dealing with immigration paperwork.

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If you are filling out a visa petition or application to help yourself or another person come to the U.S., it is crucial to get the details right. A badly handled answer, or failure to fill in a required question, can not only result in a denial, but harm the person’s immigration record forever.

Here are some tips to help with the process of preparing immigration forms.

Answer Every Question

If a question just doesn’t fit your situation, write “N/A” (not applicable) rather than leaving the space blank. For example, if a question says “List all your children’s names,” or “list the dates of all your arrests,” you could answer N/A. This question simply does not apply to your situation.

However, there are times when the answer is “none,” as in when responding to the question “number of children” or “number of arrests.”  You would not want to answer “N/A” here, because you are just as capable of answering this question as anyone else. It just happens your answer is “none.”

Try not to mix these two up; it irritates the government officials who read your application. But if you are truly unsure of how or whether to answer a question, consult an immigration attorney.

Be Consistent

As you might have guessed from the previous section, it is important not to cause confusion when filling out immigration forms. At worst, not getting your facts straight can cause the person reviewing your application to think you cannot be believed.

For example, you might live with a group of friends but use your parents’ address to get mail. Notice the places on the forms that ask for your actual residence, and the places on the forms that ask for your mailing address. Be careful to answer correctly and consistently in response.

Get Your Name(s) Right

The easiest thing on a form should be filling out your name, right? Not in this bureaucratic morass. USCIS will want not only your current name, but on certain of its forms, “other names used.” Here are some important things to get straight before you start writing your name(s) in the forms:

Married name. If you have recently married and changed your last name, use your married name. But if you are continuing to use your unmarried name, that’s okay too – don’t change it solely for the sake of your immigration application, even if you are trying to obtain a green card based on marriage.

Current name. When your current name is requested, it is best to insert the name you currently use for legal purposes. This will normally be the name on your bank account, driver’s license, and passport. If you have been known by a nickname (for example, your name is Richard but you always use the common nickname “Dick”), it’s okay to fill in the application as “Dick,” as long as you list “Richard” where the form asks for other names used. This will avoid confusion when USCIS compares your application form with the accompanying documents (your employer, for example, might write a letter saying “Dick worked here . . .”).

Legal name changes. If you have actually obtained a court-ordered legal name change, include a copy of the court order, to help dispel some of the inevitable confusion. If you have changed your name without a court order (by simply beginning to use a different name and using it consistently, which is legal in many U.S. states) and you use your changed name for all legal purposes, list it as your current name.

Other names. The category for “other names used” could include nicknames. The immigration authorities will want to know about nicknames that might be shown on your various legal documents (or a criminal record). You should also include names by which you have been publicly known, especially as an adult. However, personal names used within your household such as “sugar-pie” or “little brother” need not be included. Nor should unwanted childhood nicknames.

Previous married names. If you have been married before, remember to list your name from that marriage in the boxes requesting other names used.

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