Religious Accommodations for Photographs and Fingerprints

The USCIS issued a policy memorandum on July 23, 2012 detailing current policies regarding available accommodations for religious beliefs as it relates to immigration photographs and fingerprinting requirements. The memo makes it clear that, while some accommodations are available, the USCIS will not waive photograph or fingerprinting requirements based on religious objections. The importance of security and the use of biometric identification is a matter most people can appreciate. The USCIS has some accommodation options available including rescheduling the appointment. We have outlined these for our readers.

Photograph and Fingerprinting Requirements

It is necessary to provide photographs meeting detailed specifications in the course of certain immigration filings. The most familiar of these filings is the application for adjustment of status (I-485). It is also necessary to undergo a background check based on having one’s fingerprints taken as part of the I-485 process. The same is true in naturalization cases (N-400). While the photograph and fingerprinting procedures often are routine, issues sometimes arise due to the many different religious beliefs held by those seeking immigration benefits.

Religious Headwear and Photograph of Person’s Likeness

As indicated, the USCIS will excuse no one from the photograph requirements based on religious beliefs. Normally, an individual must remove any hat or other headwear for official photographs. However, the USCIS tries to accommodate those who wear religious head coverings. Current policy states that an individual is allowed to wear religious headwear if it is still possible to obtain a photograph that is a reasonable likeness of the individual. For this, the full face must be visible; specifically, the head covering must not cast a shadow on the subject’s face.

The USCIS will attempt to avoid the necessity of an individual removing his/her religious head covering by requesting adjustments to allow for an unobstructed picture of the entire face, without a shadow. If this cannot be accomplished, the person will need to remove the headwear.

Immigration photographs normally require that the subject’s ears are visible. This requirement can be overlooked in the case of religious headwear, if the other requirements for an identifiable photograph are met.

Private Room and Same Gender Photographer Possible

If an individual is required to remove religious a head covering, USCIS policy is to offer a private room or screened-off area, if possible, for taking the photograph. If a same-gender photographer is available to take the picture, this accommodation is offered. If a foreign national has to remove religious headwear, and accommodations cannot be made for a private area or same gender photographer, USCIS policy states that they are to offer to reschedule the appointment to a date, time and location where appropriate accommodations can be made.

Fingerprinting: Physical Contact and Religious Restrictions

The USCIS fingerprinting process often requires physical contact between the government employee and the foreign national’s hand. Some religions have prohibitions against such physical contact with members of the opposite gender. This belief will be respected and accommodated, under USCIS policy. In such situations, foreign nationals can request the assistance of a same-gender technician or officer. If there are no same-sex technicians or officers available at the time of the appointment, the USCIS will reschedule the fingerprinting to a time and place where the request can be accommodated.


Individuals who observe religious prohibitions regarding physical contact with the opposite gender should be comfortable politely requesting that they be fingerprinted taken by someone of the same gender. Foreign nationals may wish to carefully consider their choice of religiously-required head coverings worn on the day of their photographs. To the extent that variations in size and style of headwear are permitted in a particular religion, individuals may encounter fewer problems by wearing head coverings least likely to block their faces or cast shadows. If this is not possible, they should be prepared to request the accommodations described above.

Copyright © 2012, MURTHY LAW FIRM. All Rights Reserved

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.