Checklist of Basic Immigration Documents to Have on Hand

Most people find the process of preparing their immigration law case very difficult and stressful at best. To help make the situation a little less stressful, I have created a basic checklist of immigration-related documents that any experienced immigration law attorney will ask of you when starting your immigration case. This basic document checklist should also be used by people filing their own immigration case.

For immigrants or those hoping to immigrate to the US:

1. Your passport, including your current passport that has not expired and any previous passports, if possible, keep the old passport when you renew it. If you must provide your old passport to get a new one, make a copy of the expired passport, including the biographical page and any stamped pages confirming your travel, to keep in case you need it later.

2. Your I-94 card or I-94W card. The I-94 card is on a white card that you must complete before entering the US. The I-94W (also called a visa waiver) is a card that looks like the I-94 card but is green in color. Each family member must have their own card.

*It is important to note that, under US immigration law, the expiration date of the I-94 or I-94W card is what controls how long you can stay in the US without requiring an extension or violating your visa stay in the US. Some immigrants think that because they have a visa page in their passport indicating they have a 5-year or 10-year visa, they can stay in the US for that long without leaving or requiring visa extensions or change of state. This is incorrect and will cause you to lose state.

*Also, please note that the I-94 or I-94W card is EXTREMELY important. You should make copies of the card (front and back) and keep the original in a safe place. You will not be able to get a green card, fiancé visa, work visa, or any other visa in the US without proof of lawful entry, which comes in the form of an I-94 or I-94W card.

3. Birth certificate in the original native language and attach a suitable translation with the correct translator’s certificate, signature, etc. You must bring your original birth certificate with you. You should NOT present the original to immigration, as only one copy is needed, but keep the original birth certificate in a safe place in case immigration wants to see the original.

4. If married, then a marriage certificate with translation. Again, you must bring your original marriage certificate with you. File only one copy with USCIS and bring the original to the interview with you. If you are getting married in the US and do not have a copy or certified copy of your marriage license, you can obtain a certified copy at www.USA.gov. The exact link is http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Family_Issues/Vital_Docs.shtml.

5. If issued by your country, a family certificate listing you, your spouse and all your children (if applicable).

6. Divorce certificate(s), if applicable, with translation, or death certificate and English translation if spouse is deceased. Again, bring the original with you but file only one copy with USCIS.

7. Birth certificates and passports of each child and spouse. All birth certificates must be translated as explained above in point #3. These are necessary to confirm the exact identity of each person, the exact spelling of their name, etc. Because USCIS will rely on the spelling of the birth certificate rather than the person’s passport, you want to make sure the translation is correct as to the exact spelling of each person’s name.

8. If you are entering on a B-1 business visitor visa, please bring your personal or business bank account from your home country, any proof of business ownership in your home country (if applicable), any professional organizations you belong to, and a CV (i.e., resume). This information will be helpful if you plan to file for an investor visa here in the US or another type of work visa, such as opening a similar business in the US abroad.

9. If you have a bachelor’s degree from your foreign country, please bring the actual college degree (one copy is acceptable) and transcripts of classes completed at your school. This information will be needed if you decide to apply for an H-1B or other type of work visa.

10. If you already reside in the US and file US income taxes, keep copies of all tax years. A copy can be obtained from the IRS directly in case you haven’t already saved copies.

I hope the basic checklist above helps you gather the basic documents needed to file any US immigration law case. Please note that for specific case types, such as fiancé visas, work visas, marriage green card cases, etc., additional documents will be needed. Below is a link where you can find more information on a specific case type.

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