Make Sure Your Immigration Application Doesn't Get Lost in the Process

Protect yourself from the very real possibility that all or part of your green card or visa application will get lost in a government office.

The agencies that handle immigration matters are notoriously overworked, and it’s truly not uncommon for them to lose – or at least misplace – pieces of an application, or the entire application. (These agencies include the Department of State (DOS), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and others.)

The problem is made worse by the fact that most applications must be mailed to USCIS, a consulate, the National Visa Center, or another office, rather than delivered in person. So you can’t have someone confirm, in front of your eyes, that everything is complete.

The result is often weeks or months of delays. This can be especially frustrating if it’s your money on the line – for example, they write you a letter saying that you forgot to send a check and must send it now for your application to be processed, when you know perfectly well you included a check in the envelope.

There’s nothing you can do to completely prevent such problems, but the following three tips will help a lot:

  • Make copies of everything you mail.
  • Mail your applications by a traceable method.
  • Don’t mail anything that you can’t replace.

Make Complete Copies

When you’ve finished filling out a packet of required immigration forms, your first instinct will be to seal it all up in an envelope, pop it in the mail, and get on with your life. That could waste all of your hard work.

Make photocopies of every page of every petition or application, as well as any photos, documents, declarations, checks, and money orders.

Carefully keep these copies in your records. They may come in very handy later, at the very least to help convince USCIS or the consulate to take another look for the lost items. In some cases, applicants have ended up supplying USCIS with a photocopy of the originally filed application, which becomes the primary one kept in their file, to replace the lost one.

Mail by a Traceable Method

The sorting of newly arrived applications seems to be a common time for items in an immigration application to disappear. In this situation, 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 certified mail with a return receipt for all your applications or correspondence with USCIS or the consulates. When you request a return receipt, you will prepare a little postcard that is attached to your envelope and will be signed by the person at USCIS or the consulate who physically receives your envelope. The postcard will be mailed to you, and will be your proof that the envelope was received. You can use this postcard to convince USCIS or the consulate to look for the application if it gets misplaced. Better yet, use U.S. Express Mail, which includes online tracking and signature proof. It may cost more, but considering the importance of these documents, now is not the time to save every penny.

Another option – and your only option if you’re mailing something from outside of the U.S. – is to use a courier service such as FedEx or UPS. However, courier services can’t deliver to a post office box, and many USCIS addresses (in particular those of the service centers) are at post office boxes. Be careful to look for the service center’s alternate address for delivery by courier, shown on the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov.

If You Want It Back, Don’t Send It

Many immigration applications require that certain personal documents, such as birth or marriage certificates, be attached. (Paperclipping them to the form is fine.) Some documents must be included in packets of forms you must file and others must be brought to interviews. Whatever you do, however, don’t send originals to USCIS or the consulate unless you are absolutely sure that this is all they will accept.

Instead, simply photocopy any document (as long as the original is the official version), and send the copy to USCIS or the consulate. The USCIS or consular officer will ordinarily have a chance to view the originals when you bring them to your interview. (Of course, if they make a special request that you mail them the original, you’ll want to comply—but make copies for yourself first!)

It’s best to add the following text, right on the front of the copy, if there’s room:

Copies of documents submitted are exact photocopies of unaltered original documents, and I understand that I may be required to submit original documents to an immigration or consular official at a later date.

Signature:

Typed or printed name:

Date:

Always make photocopies for USCIS on one-sided, 8½-by-11-inch paper. Some applicants have been known to try to create exact copies of things by cutting the image out of the full page of paper—creating, for example, a tiny photocopied identity card. The U.S. government doesn’t appreciate these minicopies, and will often reject them.

Similarly, 8½-by-14-inch paper (or larger) doesn’t fit well into the government’s files. So use a photocopy machine that will reduce your document image to 8½-by-11 inches, if possible.

Getting Help With Your Immigration Application & Forms

If you want some extra help with filing your application, or with following up on an application that seems to have been lost, consult an experienced U.S. immigration attorney. The attorney will know the best ways to make follow-up inquiries, and can help you draft letters explaining the situation to the appropriate USCIS or consular office.

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