Most people find the process of preparing their immigration law case to be very difficult and nerve-wracking at best. To help take the stress out of this situation, I have created a checklist of basic immigration-related documents that any experienced immigration attorney will ask you to provide when starting your immigration case. Individuals filing their immigration cases should also use this essential document checklist.
For those immigrating or wishing to immigrate to the United States:
1. Your passport includes the current non-expired passport and any old passports, if possible, keep the old passports when renewing. If you must provide your old passport to obtain a newly issued one, make a photocopy of the expired passport, including the biographical data page and any stamped travel confirmation pages, in case you need it in the future.
2. Your I-94 card or I-94W card. The I-94 card is on a white card that you must fill out before entering the United States. The I-94W (also known as a visa waiver) is a card that looks like the I-94 card but is green in color. Each family member should have their card.
*It is important to note that under U.S. immigration law, the expiration date on your I-94 or I-94W card determines how long you can stay in the U.S. without an extension or violation of their visa stay in the U.S. Some immigrants believe that because they have a visa page in their passport that says they have a 5 or 10-year visa, they can stay in the U.S. for the entire time without leaving or asking for a visa extension or change of status. This is incorrect and will result in your loss of status.
*Also, please note that the I-94 or I-94W card is very important. You should make photocopies of the card (front and back) and keep the originals in a safe place. Without proof of lawful entry in the form of an I-94 or I-94W card, you will not be able to obtain a green card, fiancé visa, work visa, or any other visa in the United States.
3. Birth certificate in the original native language, with the correct translation attached, with proof of the correct translation, signature, etc. You should carry the original birth certificate with you. You should not submit the original to USCIS as only one copy is required, but please keep the original birth certificate in a safe place in case USCIS wants to see the original.
4. If married, provide a translated marriage certificate. Likewise, you should carry the original marriage certificate with you. File only one copy with USCIS and bring the original to your interview. If you were married in the United States and do not have a copy or a certified copy of your marriage license, you can obtain a certified copy at www.USA.gov. The exact link is
5. If issued by your country, a family certificate listing you, your spouse, and any children (if applicable to you) are required.
6. Divorce certificate (if applicable) and translation, if the spouse is deceased, death certificate, and English translation. Again, bring the original, but file only one copy with USCIS.
7. Birth certificate and passport of each child and spouse. Birth certificates must all be translated as explained in item 3 above. These are needed to confirm each individual’s exact identity, their exact name spelling, etc. Because USCIS will rely on the spelling on the birth certificate and not the spelling on the person’s passport, you want to make sure that the exact spelling translation is correct for each person’s name.
8. If entering on a B-1 business visitor visa, bring your personal or business bank accounts in your home country, proof of business ownership in your home country (if applicable), any professional organizations you belong to, and your resume (i.e. resume). This information will be useful if you plan to apply for an investor visa or other type of work visa in the United States, such as starting a business in the United States that is similar to an overseas business.
9. If you hold a foreign bachelor’s degree, please bring your actual university degree (copies are sufficient) and transcripts of courses completed at your home institution. You will need this information if you decide to apply for an H-1B visa or another type of work visa.
10. If you already reside in the United States and file a U.S. income tax return, keep a copy for each year you file your taxes. You can get a copy directly from the IRS if you haven’t already kept one.
I hope the above basic checklist has helped you gather the basic documents needed to file any US immigration law case. Note that for specific case types such as fiancee visas, work visas, marriage green card cases, etc., additional documentation will be required. A link is provided below where you can find more information on a specific case type.
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