Do I Need to Give U.S. Immigration Authorities Original Documents?

Figuring out when to submit originals of important immigration application documents versus copies.

Preparing applications for immigration benefits, such as U.S. visas or green cards, involves not only filling in forms, but attaching supporting documents. A few immigration applications require that original documents be attached, or fail to make entirely clear which originals they are asking for. Before sending any original to a U.S. government office, however, make absolutely sure that it is required, and take precautionary measures in case of its loss.

When Might Original Documents Be Required With an Immigration Application?

The typical documents that immigration authorities want to see original of at some point are things like marriage certificates, birth certificates, divorce or death certificates, green cards, and passports. Do not give these up unless you have to.

You might find that the National Visa Center (NVC) explicitly asks for the originals of certain documents, and will not forward your case to the U.S. consulate overseas until it receives them. In such an instance, you will need to send an original. However, be sure to make a copy for yourself first.

Making Sure Your Copies Will Be Accepted

Whenever U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the National Visa Center (or consulate) does NOT explicitly request an original document, you can 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.

Signature: __________________________

Typed or printed name: ________________

Date: ____________________

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.

Make Complete Copies Before Mailing or Submitting Any Original

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 to USCIS, the NVC, or any government agency. 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 Original Documents and Immigration Applications 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, you can go to the Post Office and use Priority Mail for applications or correspondence. The mailing receipt can be useful to convince USCIS or the consulate to look again for an 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 USCIS address for courier services, not the regular P.O. box.

If mailing something from overseas, you will have to find out the most reliable method.

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