When you have finally finished filling out immigration forms, perhaps to submit a visa petition on a family member's behalf or apply for your own green card, your first instinct may be to seal everything in an envelope and pop it in the mail. (Online filing is available for a few applications, but not all.)
Given the difficulties of dealing with a gigantic, slow-moving government bureaucracy, however, you should first take steps to protect your materials against loss and related problems. Here are three rules to remember before mailing anything to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), to a U.S. consulate, or to any other government office handling immigration matters:
We will explain the reasons for these principles below, and how to successfully submit your application.
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, demand replacements, and charge fees for bounced checks even when the agency was at fault (having told the applicant it lost the check but then attempted to cash it after the person canceled it and sent in a new one).
Carefully keep the copies you've made in your personal records. They will help you recreate these pages and items if they get lost in the mail or in the overstuffed files of some U.S. government office. Your copies may also help convince USCIS or the consulate to take another look for the lost items.
Many immigration applications require that certain documents be attached. Some documents must be included in packets of forms and others brought to interviews. A copy is usually sufficient when you're mailing something in.
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.
For more on this issue, see Do I Need to Give U.S. Immigration Authorities Original Documents?
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 Priority Mail for applications or correspondence with USCIS or the consulates. You can use the mailing receipt to convince USCIS or the consulate to look again for the application if it gets misplaced.
Using a courier service such as FedEx or UPS is an excellent alternative, since they specialize in tracking. (Just make sure to send it to the address for courier services, not the regular P.O. box.)
If you’re mailing something from overseas, you will have to find out the most reliable method.
Finally, be sure to track your application through the system. See, for example, How to Inquire About Delays in Your Green Card Application Process.