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

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.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

The U.S. agencies that handle immigration matters are notoriously overworked. It's not uncommon for them to lose, or at least misplace, pieces of an application, or the entire thing. (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 immigration applications must be mailed rather than delivered in person, whether it's to USCIS, a consulate, the National Visa Center, or another office. So you can't have someone confirm, in front of your eyes, that everything is complete. Let's take a closer look at how to deal with mislaid applications within the immigration bureaucracy.

Are Delays in Immigration Applications Common?

You can pretty much expect weeks, months, or sometimes even years of delays in the progress of your immigration application. That's "normal," and it times it gets even worse than normal. Such slow movement can be especially frustrating if it's your money on the line—for example, the agency considering your application writes 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:

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

Make Complete Copies of Anything You Give U.S. Immigration Authorities

When you've finished filling out a packet of required immigration forms, your first instinct might 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.

You'll want to make photocopies of every page of every petition or application, as well as any photos, documents, declarations, checks, and money orders that you'll be sending. Everything.

Carefully keep these copies in your records. They could come in handy later, at the 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 then becomes the primary one kept in their file, to replace the lost one.

Mail Your Immigration Application Materials by a Traceable Method

The sorting of newly arrived applications by government clerks 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 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 might 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, so be careful to look for the alternate address for delivery by courier, shown for each type of form on the USCIS website at

If You Want It Back, Don't Send It to the U.S. Government

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 later bring them to your in-person 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.


Typed or printed name:


Always make photocopies for USCIS on one-sided, 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper.

If these steps don't help get your application back on track, hire an experienced immigration attorney to help. See Is an Immigration Lawyer Worth the Cost?.

Talk to an Immigration attorney.
We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you