How to request FOIA from USCIS

One aspect of the US immigration system is it’s complex. And like many areas of law there are many nuances. Occasionally, you may run into situation where you don’t have access to your own immigration documents or your employer is not willing to sharing them. Typically, not all employers share with employees their employer sponsored visas and green card records. Or you may not have access to family sponsored green card records. Or you may simply need historical immigration documents for your own record keeping.

And luckily, US has a law called Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which gives you right of access to your documents within the branches of government. And most agencies of government come under this including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS is one of the immigration agencies under the Department of Homeland Security(DHS) and it holds number of important information about an immigrant. To help you obtain your documents, USCIS has a well defined process on how to make a FOIA request.

But, before you prepare your FOIA requests, make sure you are using the FOIA for the right purposes and the type of documents you are requesting is maintained by USCIS. USCIS is generally the records keeper of immigrations applications for visas, green card etc. Port of entry details for example are maintained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). While in some cases USCIS has access to records from other adjacent agencies, it’s better to contact the agency directly. And FOIA cannot be used to ask for status of your pending USCIS immigration applications. And it cannot be used to get original documents either. FOIA also has exemptions. For example, documents pertaining to national security concerns cannot be released.

With the basics of USCIS FOIA out of the way, Let’s see how to make the application. Making the application is a simple 3 step process, although there may be nuances while filling the forms.

Step 1: Prepare for the application

Determine what documents you need from USCIS. That and beside your basic information, You would typically need for filling the form.

  • Your Recent I-94 lookup on DHS site
  • Alien Registration Number (A-Number) (optional)
  • Application, Petition, or Request Receipt Number (optional): This could be any of you receipt number of your petitions like H1b I-129, I-140, I-130. etc
  • Id proof: For example, Copy of your license or state id

While USCIS mentions most of the above as optional information, it’s better to give as much information as possible to make it easy to identify the information you are requesting.

Step 2: Fill Form G 639

USCIS prefers the form G-639 to be used for FOIA. Get an overview of the form

Step 3: Send the form

Sign the form under perjury (Summary: You agree to face consequences under US laws, if the application contains wrong information. Formal explanation) or Sign before a Notary, with necessary documents. Email to form to [email protected] Attach any additional documents that you want to send.

What happens after that? You will receive a control number with-in 2 weeks with which you can track your status You will receive a CD with documents to your address.

Have more questions? Here is the list of frequently asked questions,

What is FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. So, people have been using FOIA to request their I140 documents. More information in wiki

What types of documents can be requested from USCIS via FOIA?

USCIS holds records pertaining to your visa, green card petitions etc. So, what that means is you can request details about your H1b petition filed on your behalf by your employer. You can also request your green card labor certifications, I-140 petition filed by your employer. Similarly, your family based green card petition (I-130) can be requested. You could request your complete A-file too if you want to get all the information USCIS has.

Can I file FOIA to get information about my friend?

FOIA allows for exemptions for reasons including privacy concerns of the individuals involved. Thus, it may be possible to obtain copies your own records, but not the records of a friend or ex-spouse.

I lost my original documents, can I request the originals through FOIA?

No. FOIA can be used to request copies of your documents. And most likely USCIS will send you a soft copy in a CD. So, talk to your attorney for means to obtain your original documents.

Will my employer know about my I140 FOIA request to USCIS?

No. FOIA request ensures privacy. Your employer or their attorneys won’t know that you have contacted USCIS to get your immigration documents.

My employer didn’t share either my I140 case number or approval number. Is it still possible to apply?

Yes. It is possible to request I140 with just basic information like your name, passport number, latest I94 number etc.

Will the document provided by USCIS sufficient to port my green card priority date or apply for H1b extensions?

Yes. USCIS sends a copy of I140 application with approval stamp which should be sufficient.

How long does USCIS take to respond?

USCIS follows a three-track system. How sooner USCIS processes your request depends on the complexity of the document requested. USCIS maintains a “A-file” or Alien-file with all information pertaining to your immigration history. If you request for the complete A-File it most likely go into track 3 and might take several months to a year or even more. But if you are requesting selected documents within the A-file like your green card petition or H1b petitions or labor certification documents, most likely those will go into the simple track. At the time of writing this simple track takes about a month to process. Anything between the two is slotted in the middle track.

For current wait times, check here

I am in a hurry, Can I expedite the process with USCIS?

USCIS may accept to expedite certain requests on a case by case basis for valid reasons like when your life is at stake or your are facing trial before a judge. In other urgent cases, you can attach a cover letter about your situation. And USCIS officials may make an effort to expedite the process. But, It’s not guaranteed, hence it’s better to plan ahead.

Is there a filing fee?

Generally no for non-commercial uses. But if USCIS determines that the cost of producing the data is expensive they will contact you. Typically USCIS can charge a fee upto $25.

OK I am ready to file. What are the steps to request the I140 information?

You will have to fill the latest G639 form. Check g 639 instructions of this blog has more information.

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