10 Must Know Tips for Filing Immigration Paperwork

10 ways to help make sure that your U.S. immigration paperwork is filed correctly.

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. Utility bills prove you have a U.S. address. A marriage certificate proves your marriage is legitimate. An arrival-departure record proves you entered the U.S. legally.

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 so that you don’t miss 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 in English. If you are required to submit official documents that are not in English — 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 he or she is able to 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 ______________________________.



Date                                          Typed Name


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

With a rejection, you can fix your mistake but you’ve now wasted time and lengthened the immigration process.

4. Be sure to submit the correct fee

Just like a forgotten signature, applications with the wrong fee amount are immediately rejected. Be sure to double check you’re paying the right fee amount and keep proof of your payment (such as a copy of the check) for your records.

Filing fees are listed on the application instructions, near the end.

Important Note! The USCIS only accepts payment in the form of a check or money order from a U.S. institution. The USCIS does NOT accept cash or checks issued from foreign banks.

5. Apply before your current status expires

If you’re applying to renew or extend your immigration benefit, be sure to apply before your current status expires.

Immigration applications sometimes take months or even years to process. Losing your status while your application is pending could result in you having no legal status for a period of time. It’s illegal to be living in the U.S. without a valid immigration status and the longer you do it, the more penalties there are.

You could be forced to leave the U.S. and, depending how long you are here without status, you could be forced to stay out of the country for three years or more.

The application instructions will tell you how early you can apply. It’s best practice to apply as early as possible.

Application Renewal/ Extension Window
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Renewal 120 days (4 months)
Extend/ change nonimmigrant (temporary visa) status 120 days (4 months)
Green card renewal 6 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. With how much time it takes to complete an immigration application, it would be a real headache to have 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. Using certified mail to send your immigration application the USCIS will give you proof of the date you sent it out and will let you know when they receive it. 

Not only is this good information for your personal 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 reviewing your immigration application, they might check your criminal record. You should be aware of all crimes you may have committed — from traffic violations to drug offenses.

You can easily request a copy of your criminal record from the FBI. All you need is a set of your fingerprints, the $18 application fee and the FBI form. You can get your fingerprints taken at your local police station or check for private companies in your area that provide this service. Visit www.fbi.gov to get a copy of the application. It takes about 30 days to process.

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

Immigration is one of the most complicated aspects of U.S. law. People often need help completing their applications. It’s extremely important to understand the different types of help available and what exactly they are qualified to do. 

A notario is not an attorney. In the United States, a notario or “notary public” is only qualified as a “document preparer.” They do NOT have the authority to advise you on what forms to file, how to answer questions or more complicated aspects of immigration like how to help a friend or relative who is 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.

 To view a list of free legal service providers by state, visit the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/eoir/probono/states.htm. 

To view a list of nonprofit, accredited immigration help providers by state visit the United We Dream website at unitedwedream.org/groups/. 

To learn about www.FileRight.com, online immigration software that walks you through immigration paperwork, visit www.fileright.com.

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