If you are applying for a visa, green card, asylum, or almost any immigration benefit, you will likely be asked to provide personal documents, such as your birth certificate or marriage certificate. However, for some people, such documents are impossible to obtain, usually because their original source is inaccessible (for example because a government office was destroyed or is now behind a closed political boundary).
In such a situation, you may need to rely on substitute documents. The immigration application instructions will give you a list of substitutes that are acceptable. As a last resort, you may need to submit a sworn declaration or affidavit prepared by someone you know. For example, you might need to ask a friend or family member to prepare one affirming your date and place of birth.
Another situation in which you may want to submit a sworn declaration or affidavit is if you are trying to prove something that isn’t easily documented, such as that your marriage was the real thing, not a sham to get a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence). Having friends, employers, and others describe what they know of your personal situation can help convince USCIS or the State Department that your story is true.
A declaration is a written statement that the author dates and signs. An affidavit has one additional feature. It is notarized, which means signed in front of someone who is authorized by the government to attest to, or certify, the authenticity of signatures (a "notary public").
When someone brings an affidavit to a notary, the notary will ask for identification, such as a passport or driver’s license, to make sure that the person is the same one whose signature is called for on the affidavit. The person must sign the affidavit in the presence of the notary, who makes a note of this in his or her notary book. The notary also places a stamp, or seal, on the document.
As you can see, affidavits are more formal and more trouble than simple declarations. An affidavit is not usually required for substitute documents such as we’re describing now, but if you want to make the document look more official, and know where to find a notary, you might want to take the extra trouble.
They key thing that the person preparing the document needs to understand is that fancy legal language is not as important as detailed facts. Anyone can write “I swear that Antonio was born in Rome in 1969 to Mr. and Mrs. Macari” and then sign their name. But when it comes to convincing an immigration official to accept the person’s word in place of an official document, you’ll want to include more details.
Following on the example from above, it would be much more compelling for the person to write, “I swear that I am Antonio’s older brother. I remember the morning that my mother brought him home from the hospital in 1969 (I was then seven years old). We grew up together in our parents’ home (Mr. and Mrs. Guido Macari) in Rome. Our neighbors often used to comment how alike we looked, even with the seven-year age difference.”
The full declaration should ideally be even longer and contain more details than this example. The more details that are offered, the more likely USCIS or the consulate is to accept the declaration as the truth.
A sworn statement for an asylum application could be several pages long, depending on the content. If, for example, a witness observed the persecution of the applicant, than his or her sworn statement should contain as many facts, names, dates, and other details as the person remembers. It should, if possible, corroborate both the simple and the complex elements of the applicant’s asylum claim; from the basic fact of that person’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group to the actual events and extent of the persecution experienced.
To start the declaration, the person should state his or her complete name and address, as well as country of citizenship.
At the bottom of the declaration, the person should write the following:
I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.
If preparing sworn declarations seems like too much to accomplish, you could hire a lawyer to help. The lawyer can help make sure that the language is both accurate and convincing.