Creating Substitute Documents or Affidavits for Immigration Applications

What to do when the certificate or document you need for your immigration application cannot be found.

By , J.D.

U.S. immigration authorities have a clear idea of what type of documents they want in support of visa petitions and other applications. If, for example, a U.S. citizen is petitioning for his or her foreign-born parent to immigrate, the child will be expected to come up with a birth certificate showing their relationship.

But what if you don't have the needed documents? One possible alternative is to create a sworn statement or affidavit.

When Substitute Documents Are Accepted by U.S. Immigration Authorities

If you really can't come up with a needed document, even after contacting all the appropriate government offices, U.S. immigration authorities will recognize certain types of substitutes.

Still, if you substitute a new type of evidence for a missing document, you should include a statement explaining why the original document is unavailable; preferably from someone in authority. For example, if your birth certificate was destroyed in a fire, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) might accept in its place school records or sworn statements by people who knew you to prove your date of birth and who your parents are, along with a letter from the government agency in your country stating that the fire took place and that all records from the relevant time period were lost.

The instructions included with USCIS forms typically outline the other types of evidence that USCIS accepts. Read them carefully.

Creating a Sworn Declaration

One form of substitute document that you might need to use is a sworn declaration. You might, for instance, ask a longtime friend or family member to prepare one affirming your date and place of birth. If so, emphasize to the person that fancy legal language is not as important as detailed facts when it comes to convincing an immigration official to accept that person's word in place of an official document.

The average person preparing a declaration thinks that it is enough to write something like, "I swear that Francois was born in Avignon, France in 1962 to Mr. and Mrs. Marti."

But it would be much more compelling for them to write, "I swear that I am Francois' older brother. I remember the morning that my mother brought him home from the hospital in 1962 (I was then five years old), and we grew up together in our parent's home (Mr. and Mrs. Xavier Marti) in Avignon, France."

The full declaration should be longer and contain more details than this example. The more details that are offered, the more likely USCIS or the U.S. consulate is to accept the declaration as the truth.

To start the declaration, the person should state his or her complete name and address, as well as country of citizenship. At the bottom of the declaration, the person should write:

I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

Signed: ________________________

Date: _______________________

If preparing sworn declarations seems like too much to accomplish, you could hire a lawyer for this task only. Below is a sample of a full sworn declaration. (Remember, when writing your own declaration, tailor it to your own situation; do not simply copy the wording of the sample!)

By the way, a declaration is different from a similar legal document called an affidavit. An affidavit is a written statement that the author dates and signs—but it has one additional feature. Affidavits are notarized, which means that they are signed in front of someone who is authorized by the government to attest to, or certify, the authenticity of signatures. When you bring a declaration to a notary, that person will ask for identification, such as your passport or driver's license, to make sure that you are the person whose signature is called for on the declaration. You sign the declaration in the presence of the notary, who makes a note of this in his or her notary book. The notary also places a stamp, or seal, on your document.

Because affidavits are more formal and more trouble than simple declarations, you might prefer to stick with the sworn declaration format. An affidavit is not required for substitute documents such as we are describing here. However, if you want to make the document look more official, and the person preparing the affidavit knows where to find a notary, the extra trouble might be worth it.

Sample Sworn Declaration for Immigration Case

Here's an example of what a sworn declaration should look like. It is written to prove that an immigrant who is applying through marriage is no longer married to his first wife, due to her death.

Declaration in Support of Application of Guofeng Zheng

I, Shaoling Liu, hereby say and declare as follows:

1. I am a U.S. permanent resident, and a citizen of China, residing at 222 Azalea Drive, Seattle, WA 98111. My telephone number is 206-555-1212. I have been living in the United States since January 2, 2013.

2. I am originally from Mainland China, where I grew up in the same town (called Dahuo, in Suzhou province) as Guofeng Zheng.

3. I knew Guofeng Zheng's first wife, Meihua. I attended their wedding, and had dinner at their home several times. I also remember when Meihua fell ill with cancer. She was sick for many months before passing away on October 31, 2009.

4. I received the news of Meihua's death a few days later, in early November of 2009. I knew the doctor who had treated her, and he was very embarrassed that his treatments had failed. I also attended Meihua's funeral on November 7th. Her ashes are being kept at a family altar by her cousins.

5. I am also aware that the municipal records office, where all deaths are recorded, burnt down in the year 2011. I myself had difficulty with this, when I tried to get a copy of my mother's birth certificate last year.

I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

Signed: Shaoling Liu

Date: August 4, 2021

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