10 Must-Know Tips for Filing Immigration Paperwork

There is no room for error when you send your paperwork to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Even the slightest typo could result in rejection, which means you must start back at square one with a new petition.

What’s more, the USCIS might even deny your request and keep the fees you paid if you’re ineligible for the immigration benefit you seek. Of course, you can apply again, but you will have lost precious time and money in the process. To help you avoid costly delays, FileRight offers the following 10 ways to make sure you file your U.S. immigration paperwork correctly.

stack of uscis immigration forms
A stack of USCIS immigration forms. You must know how to correctly file your paperwork to successfully immigrate to the United States.

What to Know Before You File

The USCIS is an agency of the U.S. government under the Department of Homeland Security. It is responsible for processing immigration and citizenship petitions from foreign nationals who want to live in the United States.

There are over 100 forms available to file, most of which are related to the pursuit of: 

  • A green card for permanent residence
  • Naturalization to become a U.S. citizen
  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) for eligible individuals to stay in the U.S. without risk of immediate deportation

Before filing your form, be sure that the one you choose is right for your situation. If you’re not sure, FileRight.com offers comprehensive immigration solutions like qualification quizzes to check your eligibility.

Depending on the form you’re filing and the current caseload at your local field office, a decision on your paperwork could take months or even years. This timeline could be further delayed if there are errors, so follow these 10 tips to avoid mistakes when dealing with the USCIS.

1. Be Prepared for Paperwork Beyond the Government Form

Every immigration process requires at least one government form. But what many people don’t know is that you’re often required to submit loads of other paperwork called “supporting evidence.”

Supporting evidence is paperwork that proves something about you. For example, a marriage license proves your union is legitimate. A travel document demonstrates you entered the United States legally. Your utility bills show that you possess a U.S. address.  

When you’re getting ready to submit an immigration application, be sure to include all the necessary supporting paperwork. It’s a good idea to have a checklist specific to your situation to avoid missing anything.

Important Note: Send the USCIS copies of your supporting documents and keep the originals. Only in rare cases does the USCIS require you to submit original documents.

2. Translate Foreign Documents

The USCIS requires that all supporting paperwork be submitted in English. If you submit official documents in another language—like a foreign birth certificate—you must include translations.

Translations need to be certified. “Certified” means the translator promises that (1) their translation is complete and correct and (2) that they can translate that foreign language into English. This promise must be made in writing and signed.

The certification must include the date, signature, and address of the translator. It could look something like this:

I, [typed name], certify that I am [fluent/conversant] in the English and ____________ languages, and that the [above attached] document is an accurate translation of the document attached entitled ______________________________.

Signature: _________________________________

                                       [Typed Name]

Date: _____________

Address: __________________________________

Submit the certification, a copy of the original document, and the translation with your immigration application.

3. Don’t Forget to Sign Your Application

Applications that aren’t signed are immediately rejected. Unsigned applications are one of the top reasons for rejection year after year.

It’s important to note that a “rejection” is not a “denial.” When an application is rejected, it’s returned to you with your money. You can fix your mistake at no additional cost, but you’ve now wasted time and lengthened the immigration process. 

In the case of a denial, you will have to resubmit the entire application, including fees.

4. Be Sure to Submit the Correct Fee

Just like a missing signature, applications with the wrong fee amount are immediately rejected. So be sure to double-check you’re paying the proper fee amount and keep proof of your payment, such as a copy of the check, for your records.

Filing fees are listed on the petition instructions near the end.

Important Note: The USCIS only takes payment in money order or check form from a U.S. institution. The USCIS doesn’t accept cash or personal checks issued from foreign banks.

5. Apply Before Your Current Status Expires

If you’re petitioning to extend or renew your immigration benefit, be sure to send in your application well before your status expires in anticipation of potentially long processing times.

Losing your status while your application is pending could result in you having no legal status for a time. This is because it’s illegal to live in the U.S. without valid immigration status, and the longer you are here illegally, the more penalties there are.

You could be forced to leave the U.S. through deportation. Additionally, depending on how long you were here without status, you could be forced to stay out of the country for three years or more before you can apply to return.

The application instructions will tell you how early you can petition before your status is set to expire. However, it’s best practice to apply as early as possible during this renewal window.

ApplicationRenewal/Extension Window
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal120 days (4 months) 
Extend/change nonimmigrant (temporary visa) status120 days (4 months)
Green card renewal6 months
Remove conditions of residence (for 2-year green cards)90 days (3 months)

6. Make Copies of Everything

Sometimes, things get lost in the mail. For example, with how much time it takes to complete an immigration application, it would be a real headache to do it all over — especially gathering all the supporting documents.

Make copies of your entire application. And make copies of all supporting evidence. Keep these in your records in case something goes wrong or in case you apply for another immigration benefit down the line.

7. Use Certified Mail

When dealing with important papers, it’s a good idea to keep detailed records. For example, utilizing certified mail to send your immigration application to the USCIS will supply evidence of the date you sent it out and let you know when they receive it.

Not only is this good information for your records, but it can also help you calculate the processing time for your immigration application. If you know when the USCIS received your application, you can do some simple math to figure out the approximate time you’ll receive your immigration benefit.

8. Know Your Criminal Record

When the USCIS is analyzing your immigration application, they might review your criminal record. Therefore, you should be informed about all crimes you may have committed — from minor traffic violations to serious drug offenses.

You can request a copy of your criminal record directly from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This request takes about 30 days to process. All you need is: 

  • A set of your fingerprints, which you can take at your local police station or with a private company in your area that provides this service
  • The $18 application fee
  • The FBI form 

If you have a criminal record, it’s a good idea to have it reviewed by an immigration attorney before you submit your application. They can advise you on how best to answer questions on the application and what to do if the USCIS asks more questions about your crimes.

9. Avoid Notarios Promising More Than They Can Deliver

Immigration is one of the most complicated aspects of U.S. law, so people often need help completing their applications. First, however, you should take the time to understand the different types of support available and what exactly they are qualified to do.

A notario publico is not an attorney. The Spanish phrase notario publico translates to notary public. However, in the United States, a notary public is only qualified to prepare documents, and does not have the authority to advise you on: 

  • Which forms to file
  • How to answer questions posed by immigration officials
  • Complicated aspects of immigration, like how to help a friend or relative living in the U.S. without papers

Many notary publics try to convince people that they have the same power as attorneys. They might lie about their knowledge and ability and charge you similar fees as attorneys—but they cannot offer the same quality of help.

10. Explore All Your Options

Before you submit your application alone or spend money on an attorney, explore all your options. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice website provides a state-by-state list of free legal service providers who may be able to help you pro bono.

Several nonprofit organizations also provide immigration assistance for free or at a reduced cost. Visit the National Immigration Legal Services Directory, available on the Immigration Advocates website, to see a list of providers in your state.

Get Filing Assistance From FileRight.com

FileRight.com’s online immigration software walks you through your paperwork to reduce guesswork and risk. Therefore, input your information, and we will fill out the forms for you.

From helping you find the suitable form and documents to assembling your packet and pre-addressing your USCIS envelope, we will point you in the right direction at each step along the way. 

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