What to expect when you get your fingerprints and photograph taken
Biometrics Appointment Overview
As part of applying for a green card, you’re required to attend a biometrics appointment. What should you expect?
First of all, don’t be intimidated by the word “biometrics!” During this appointment, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will simply record your fingerprints and take photos of you. They will then run this information through the FBI database in order to check for any criminal records.
For most people, the biometrics appointment shouldn’t be difficult or stressful. Just to make sure you feel prepared, though, here’s what you need to know…
What Is the Biometrics Appointment?
The biometrics appointment is all about ensuring that the person applying for a green card does not have a serious criminal record or any relevant prior immigration violations. Applicants who are in the United States will attend their biometrics appointment at a local USCIS office, relatively early in the green card application process. Applicants who are abroad will attend a biometrics appointment at the U.S. consulate that is processing their green card application, typically after their green card interview has been scheduled.
It’s a relatively straightforward visit, during which the family member applying for a green card will have his or her fingerprints and photo taken, and will be asked to sign his or her name. The goal is to cross-check the fingerprints, photo, and signature with the FBI’s criminal database, as well as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database of non-citizens who have an immigration violation (such as crossing the border illegally).
You will not have your blood drawn, nor will there be a DNA test as part of the biometrics appointment for a green card. There are some circumstances under which an applicant might be asked to provide a DNA sample—generally if the visa application is based on a blood relationship (parent/child or sibling/sibling) and there is ambiguity about that relationship. The goal of a DNA test, if requested by USCIS, is entirely different from the goals of the biometrics appointment.
The entire process generally takes 15–20 minutes, although you may have to wait beforehand. There is no interview at the biometrics appointment, and the people who take your fingerprints and photo do not have any information about your application, so this is not an appropriate place to ask questions. The people who do the fingerprinting are often not even USCIS employees, but work for separate contractors and don’t necessarily know anything about the immigration process.
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The biometrics appointment is generally the first milestone to occur after you have filed your green card application package. You might even get the initial appointment notice before you receive confirmation from USCIS that your application package has been processed. The actual appointment, however, is usually scheduled between 5–8 weeks after your filing date.
There are a couple of things to be aware of as you’re getting ready for your biometrics appointment.
First, only the family member applying for a green card needs to attend the appointment; the sponsor is not required to come along, although he or she can.
Secondly, it’s important to bring the following documents:
- A photo ID, such as your passport or driver’s license
- The notice you got from USCIS informing you of the time and place of your biometrics appointment
- Any other receipt notices you’ve gotten from USCIS
- Any other documents USCIS has specifically requested on your appointment notice (typically any previous employment authorization documents or travel permits issued to you)
You should NOT bring any weapons of any kind to the appointment, and you should not bring food, electronic devices, or cameras into the fingerprinting area.
USCIS recently announced that applicants can now reschedule their biometrics online, rather than having to call the USCIS Contact Center.
You will not need to bring payment to the biometrics appointment, since you should have already paid the $85 biometrics fee as part of your green card application package.
In general, if you have a criminal record, it’s advisable to get legal assistance during the green card application process. An attorney will help ensure that you disclose your criminal record in the appropriate parts of your application.
The primary goal of USCIS in checking photos and fingerprints against FBI databases isn’t necessarily to deny all green card applications for everyone who has a criminal record, but rather to ensure that applicants have accurately disclosed their criminal records.
That said, some types of criminal records could make an applicant ineligible for a green card. For more information, see our guide on green card applicants with criminal histories.
Although you might find yourself getting called to a second biometrics appointment, this usually doesn’t signal any wrongdoing on your part, or indicate that your application will be denied. Here are two common reasons that applicants are asked to attend a second biometrics appointment:
- The fingerprints were smudged or otherwise not usable. If this happens, or if there is any other error that makes it impossible to use the fingerprints, photo, or signature you provided, you’ll have to go in for a second biometrics appointment.
- Your biometrics expired before your application was processed. The biometrics and associated background check are valid for 15 months. If it has taken longer than that for USCIS to process your green card application, you will have to get your biometrics taken a second time.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the biometrics appointment: USCIS will deny your green card application if you miss it without rescheduling ahead of time.
But if you plan ahead, the biometrics appointment should be a quick and painless step toward getting your green card.
You can reschedule the biometrics appointment, but it’s generally not a good idea to do so unless you absolutely have to—and rescheduling twice is certainly something to avoid. Your green card application will not be denied just because you request to reschedule your biometrics appointment, but it will be denied if you don’t get your fingerprints and photo taken in a timely manner.
If something urgent does comes up unexpectedly, you can call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283 to request to reschedule your biometrics appointment. Make sure to do so before the date and time of your original appointment. If you don’t reschedule and you don’t show up at your original appointment, USCIS may deny your application.