What If Documents For Your Green Card Application Are Unavailable?

If you're applying to become a legal permanent resident of the U.S., you'll need to submit certain documents to support your case. Here's what's expected of you if you can't get them.

The process of applying for a green card requires applicants to submit various documents regarding their personal background. For example, if you are applying for adjustment of status in the United States based on a family relationship, you will be required to submit copies of your birth certificate and evidence of family relationships such as marriage and divorce certificates. If you are applying for a family-based immigrant visa from outside the United States through consular processing, you will be required to submit not only original or certified copies of your birth certificate, marriage certificate (if applicable), and divorce certificate (if applicable), but also police records from every country you resided in for more than one year, prison records (if applicable), and military records (if applicable).  

Getting Documents From the Appropriate Government Agency

If you don't have one of these documents in your possession, then the immigration authorities expect you to contact the appropriate government agency for a replacement. However, some applicants are not able to secure all of the necessary documents for the green card process because they are simply not available in their home country.

If you find that you are unable to secure one of documents required for your green card, the first thing you will need to do is confirm that the document is really not available. You can do this by visiting the U.S. Department of State Country Reciprocity Table. On this page, you will select your home country in the drop-down menu. When the page to your country comes up, scroll down to review the “Documents” section. This section includes a heading for each required document for the green card process and states whether or not it is available. If your document is available, you must follow the guidance provided on how to obtain it. If the document is unavailable, you will have to request a certificate of non-availability from the appropriate governmental authority.

If a document is listed as available but you are having difficulty securing it from the appropriate governmental authority, you might be able to argue that the document is “unobtainable.” In order to do that, you will have to demonstrate that securing the document will cause you or your family member hardship that is beyond a normal delay or inconvenience. You will need to provide evidence of the efforts you made to secure the document, as well as the hardship that will result if you are forced to obtain it.

Using Secondary Evidence When a Document Is Unavailable

If, even after your best efforts, a document is truly not available, or has otherwise been deemed unobtainable, you must submit secondary evidence in addition to the certificate of non-availability. The Country Reciprocity Table may provide guidance on what type of secondary evidence will suffice for the document you are missing.

For example, if the applicant is a national of India who was born before April 1, 1970, it is possible he/she doesn’t have a birth certificate because the registration of births was optional before that date. The Country Reciprocity Table for India states that a sworn affidavit from the parents, or other close relatives, may be submitted in addition to a certificate of non-availability as further proof of the applicant’s birth.  

Other commonly accepted forms of secondary evidence include, but are not limited to:

  • church or baptismal records
  • medical records identifying the relationship at issue
  • school records identifying the relationship at issue
  • census records identifying the relationship at issue
  • adoption records, or
  • sworn declarations or affidavits from family members or friends stating important facts that can’t otherwise be proven.

Getting Help With The Process

Immigration applications and the associated USCIS bureaucracy can be intimidating to even the most well-informed applicants. An immigration attorney can provide you with assistance if you are having difficulty obtaining an available document, or obtaining secondary evidence for a document that is not available. For example, the attorney may be able to interview your parents and help draft an affidavit in their words, on their behalf.

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