Documents to Keep

The Murthy Law Firm is pleased to provide some guidance for foreign nationals about the importance of keeping certain immigration-related documents. This is particularly important for those intending to change and/or extend nonimmigrant status, as well as those filing the application for adjustment of status to permanent resident in the United States. Historical status documents are also needed for visa applications at the consulates and in connection with certain filings by and for family members.

A useful tip to consider is keeping a personal immigration file that contains the originals and clean copies of documents. When possible, documents should be stored both in hard copy and electronically. It is important to store them in a secure manner and many people retain backup copies. These documents should include:

  • all approval notices from the USCIS
  • receipt notices for USCIS applications and petitions
  • copies of immigration applications and petitions filed by the foreign national or employer (if available)
  • copies of other communications to and from the U.S. government regarding case filings, status, and decisions
  • written and eMail communications with employers relevant to maintenance of immigration status
  • communications from attorneys providing immigration representation and advice
  • I-94 cards (latest original will probably be stapled into passport – keep photocopies of current and previous I-94s in the file)
  • Forms I-20, IAP-66, DS-2019 if applicable
  • pay stubs and W-2s from current and prior U.S. employers
  • proof of filing AR-11 address-change notification
  • experience letters from prior (U.S. and overseas) employers indicating dates of work and the nature of the work
  • transcripts from all schools / colleges / universities attended
  • copies of current and prior employment authorization cards
  • marriage certificate/s and divorce decree/s
  • birth certificates or alternative proof of birth and parentage
  • any other documents that may be relevant to proving compliance with immigration requirements

Parents should create immigration document files for their children, and these records should be maintained for as long as needed. As the children become responsible for their own affairs, they should be given these important documents, so that they will be able to document their immigration history and status when needed.

The above documents are important for several purposes. First of all, some of these items may need to be included with an application or petition to change status or at the time of filing an extension of status with a different employer. Even more importantly, at the time of filing for adjustment of status (the final stage of “green card” processing) it is necessary to show that the applicant has continually maintained valid legal status throughout the entire stay in the United States (subject to the 180-day grace period accorded to employment-based cases in the first three preference categories and the exception for applications by immediate family members of U.S. citizens).

Although professional organizations will advise you to shred documents that do not appear relevant, in the immigration context it is better to keep more than less. It is vital to be able to establish compliance with the terms of one’s immigration status, and that applications and petitions were filed within specific timeframes. It can be necessary to establish one’s educational qualifications as well as employment experience. There are times when a foreign national must prove s/he has provided the USCIS with updated address information, and that the case status has been checked periodically.

Many immigration benefits require proof of legal or biological relationships. In cases based upon marriage, it is generally necessary to show that one supported one’s spouse and/or minor children, if they lived separately from the applicant. Travel history for trips outside of the United States is also relevant at certain stages.

One may wish to discuss current or future immigration plans with a qualified, experienced attorney, able to suggest they types of documents that should be preserved. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and find a safe place to keep your records.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.