When you have finally finished filling out a packet of required immigration forms, your first instinct may be to seal them in an envelope and pop them in the mail. However, given the difficulties of dealing with a gigantic, slow-moving government bureaucracy, that could waste all of your hard work.
To protect yourself against loss and other issues, here are three rules to remember before mailing anything to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a U.S. consulate, or any other government office handling immigration matters:
1. Make a complete copy for your files.
2. Mail your applications by a traceable method.
3. Don’t mail any original document unless you are certain that you have no choice.
We will explain the reasons for these principles below, and how to successfully submit your application.
Make Complete Copies
Find a photocopy machine and make copies of every page of every application, as well as any photos, documents, checks, and money orders that you plan to send in. All of these are important. USCIS has been known to, for example, lose the checks that go with an application and demand replacements.
Carefully keep these in your records. This will help you recreate these pages and items if they are lost in the mail or in the overstuffed files of some government office. It may also help convince USCIS or the consulate to take another look for the lost items.
Mail by a Traceable Method
In any government agency, things get lost. The sorting of newly arrived applications seems to be a common time for them to disappear. If this happens to your application, it can become important to prove that you mailed it in the first place.
In the United States, one good option is to go to the Post Office and use certified mail with a return receipt for applications or correspondence with USCIS or the consulates. When you request a return receipt, you will prepare a little postcard that is attached to your envelope and will be signed by the person at USCIS or the consulate who physically receives your envelope. The postcard will be mailed to you, which will be your proof that the envelope was received. You can use this postcard to convince USCIS or the consulate to look for the application if it gets misplaced.
Using a courier service such as FedEx or UPS is also a good idea. (Just make sure to send it to the address for courier services, not the regular P.S. box.)
If you’re mailing something from overseas, you will have to find out the most reliable method.
Don’t Send Originals Unless You Have To
Many immigration applications require that certain documents be attached. Paper-clipping them to the form is acceptable. Some documents must be included in packets of forms and others brought to interviews. Whatever you do, do not send originals to USCIS or any agency unless you are specifically told that you have no choice. Your document may be lost forever.
You will find that the National Visa Center explicitly asks for the originals of certain documents, and will not forward your case to the U.S. consulate overseas until it receives them. (Whenever you send an original, however, be sure to make a copy for yourself first.)
Whenever USCIS or the National Visa Center (or consulate) does NOT explicitly request an original document, simply photocopy the document (as long as the original is the official version), and submit the copy. The USCIS or consular officer will have a chance to view the originals when you bring them to your interview. Write the word “COPY” in red letters at the top, and add the following text, right on the front of the copy, if there is room:
Copies of documents submitted are exact photocopies of unaltered original documents and I understand that I may be required to submit original documents to an immigration or consular official at a later date.
Typed or printed name: ________________
Always make photocopies for USCIS on one-sided, 8½” × 11” paper. Some applicants have been known to try to create exact copies of things by cutting the image out of the full page of paper -- creating, for example, a tiny photocopied green card. The government does not appreciate these minicopies.
By the same token, 8½” × 14” paper (or larger) doesn’t fit well into the government’s files. Use a photocopy machine that will reduce your document image to 8½” × 11”, if possible.