Top 10 Hard-to-Find Immigration Documents and How to Get Them
Where to find key certificates and records for your green card application
In this guide, we’ll show you where to get official copies of the 10 most common documents required for a marriage green card and — or other documents that can serve as substitutes. We’ll also outline your options when even duplicates aren’t available. Most of these documents are also required for a family-based green card.
As electronic documents increasingly become the standard for record-keeping, few people keep comprehensive physical paper records anymore. So don’t feel bad if your important documents are collecting dust somewhere you can’t remember. You’re a normal human being! The good news is you can get started on your green card application now, while you gather your supporting documents. You don’t need every document on hand to start making progress!
Boundless has helped more than 100,000 people with their immigration plans. We’ll be your visa planning partner from beginning to end. Get started today!
Not sure which visa is right for you? Take our free assessment to get a customized plan.
Top 10 Hard-to-Find Documents
The following table lists 10 of the most commonly required documents for a marriage-based green card application, along with which spouse must provide it to the U.S. government. Click on each document to learn where and how to access an official copy. (And also see this full list of required documents for a marriage-based green card.)
|1. Birth Certificate||Both family members or spouses|
|2. Marriage Certificate||Both spouses (if applicable)|
|3. Financial Documents||Both family members or spouses|
|4. Evidence of U.S. Citizenship or Green Card Holder (Permanent Resident) Status||Sponsoring family member (U.S. citizen or green card holder)|
|5. Evidence of Lawful U.S. Entry and Status||Family member seeking a green card|
|6. Police Clearance Certificate||Family member seeking a green card from abroad|
|7. Divorce Papers||Both spouses (if applicable)|
|8. Court, Police, and Prison Records||Family member seeking a green card (if applicable)|
|9. Military Records||Family member seeking a green card from abroad (if applicable)|
|10. Deportation Documents||Family member seeking a green card (if applicable)|
Every applicant and their sponsor is required to submit a photocopy of each of their birth certificates to the U.S. government. Where you can get a certified copy depends on where you were born. It must also contain key information, such as your full name, the names of both parents, and your place of birth. Boundless has a detailed guide on obtaining a copy of your birth certificate or alternative document.
In order to prove that a valid marriage exists between you and your spouse, you must submit a photocopy of your marriage certificate to the U.S. government. The procedure for obtaining a certified copy of your marriage certificate depends on where your marriage took place. You can learn more from our detailed guide to obtaining a copy of your marriage certificate.
Every sponsoring spouse (the U.S. citizen or green card holder) must meet specific income requirements for their household. Meeting those financial guidelines ensures that the sponsoring spouse will be able to financially support the spouse seeking a green in the United States.
In order to prove that you are a U.S. citizen, you must submit a photocopy of one of the following documents and bring the original or certified copy to your green card interview:
|Document||Where to get it|
|Birth Certificate||Civil registrar, vital records office, or other government agency that can prove your U.S. birth|
|Naturalization Certificate||U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)|
|Certificate of Citizenship||U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)|
|Consular Report of Birth Abroad||U.S. consulate or embassy or U.S. Department of State|
|Valid (Unexpired) U.S. Passport||U.S. Department of State|
If none of the above is available, you may instead submit a written statement from a U.S. consular officer. The sworn statement must affirm that you are indeed a U.S. citizen and that you have a valid passport.
In order to prove that you’re a green card holder (permanent resident), you must submit a photocopy of the front and back of your Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551), the official term for a green card.
If you’re still waiting for your green card in the mail, you may instead submit photocopies of your passport’s biographic page and the page showing that you entered the United States as a permanent resident. Alternatively, you can provide other evidence of green card holder status that was issued by USCIS or its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
If you’re being sponsored for a green card and applying from within the United States, you will need to prove that you entered the United States lawfully and have maintained lawful status while waiting for your case to be approved. Proving lawful entry and status requires an I-94 travel record, as well as copies of the admission stamp and visa in your passport. Boundless has a complete guide on obtaining travel records that have been lost, stolen, or destroyed.
If you’re a spouse seeking a green card from abroad, you must obtain a police clearance certificate from each country in which you’ve lived since age 16. (Police clearance certificates are different from police records, which are required only if a spouse seeking a green card has a record of a law enforcement issue). Boundless has a detailed guide on obtaining a police clearance certificate.
Either spouse who has ever been married before must provide evidence that each of their prior marriages has been legally terminated. Different documents are required, however, for marriages that ended because of a previous spouse’s death or by annulment. You can learn more from our detailed guide to obtaining divorce papers.
If you’re a spouse seeking a green card, you must submit records of any previous encounters with law enforcement. (Police records are separate from police clearance certificates, which are required only of spouses seeking a green card from abroad and whether or not they have a record of a previous law-enforcement issue.) Boundless has more details on accessing court, police, and prison records.
Spouses seeking a green card from abroad must provide copies of their military records if they’ve ever served in the military of any country, including the United States. Additional documentation is required for spouses who have been discharged, have retired, have resigned, or have violations on their records. Boundless has complete details on accessing military service records.
If you’re a spouse seeking a green card and have ever been deported from the United States, you must submit your deportation record to the U.S. government. Whether you’re eligible to apply for a family-based or marriage-based green card depends on the type of violation that resulted in deportation, but the process may be more difficult, especially for certain applicants.
You can obtain your deportation documents from the immigration court where your case was heard. You may also request the release of your immigration record under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
There are three ways to submit a FOIA request:
- Complete an online form. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides an online submission form that it will forward to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) once completed.
- Complete a paper form. USCIS provides a paper form (G-639) for this procedure, as well, but it is generally not required. If you choose this option, you must follow the specific instructions on the form.
- Write to USCIS. If you prefer, you can also write your request and mail or fax it to the National Records Center of USCIS.
If you choose the third option, your written request must include the following:
- Your full name, address, and phone number
- A detailed description of the records you seek (be as specific as possible)
- A statement of your willingness to pay any fees (currently up to $25) associated with the request
- Your signature witnessed by a notary public
Country-Specific Document Sources
The U.S. Department of State provides a complete list of documents and procedures specific to each country. If you are a relative applying for a family-based or marriage-based green card from abroad or need documents issued in another country, such as military records, following this resource will help you avoid issues and delays in the processing of your application.
If a particular country shows that a specific document is “unavailable,” you are not required to submit that document to the National Visa Center (NVC), according to the State Department’s instructions.
Boundless offers unlimited support from our team of immigration experts, so you can apply with confidence and focus on what’s important, your life in the U.S. Learn more.
If you can’t locate a certain document or obtain a copy from an official source, you must submit a notarized personal affidavit (written statement) explaining in detail why that particular document is not available. Your description must be as specific as possible. For instance, if a fire or flood destroyed all documents, including yours, in the facility where they were stored, you would include this detail in your explanation. You would also include any documentation supporting this fact, such as a clip of the news story about the event (if available) or an official statement from the government agency that originally held the documents.
If you’re applying for a family-based or marriage-based green card from within the United States, you also must submit one of the following — secondary evidence or notarized personal affidavits from other people — in addition to your notarized personal affidavit. Those applying from abroad should check the appropriate country’s guidelines to find out if this requirement applies to them, as well.
You can choose strong alternative evidence for the best chance of success and to prevent delays in your application caused by official requests for evidence (RFEs).
For example, you can use church records, such as a baptismal certificate, to substitute for a birth certificate. Ideally, the baptismal certificate would show your birth date and the names of your parents. Census records would be another option in this case.
If secondary evidence is not available, you must provide at least two additional personal affidavits (written statements) from other people who know about the given event, such as your birth or marriage. The person who writes an affidavit is an affiant. The affiant swears to the affidavit’s truth. When submitting affidavits to USCIS, experts recommend a typed letter. Every affidavit should cover these basic points:
- Full name and address of affiant
- Date and place of birth
- Relationship to applicant and spouse
- An account of your relationship explaining:
- How you met the couple
- Time frame you have known the couple
- Give a sense of the frequency (i.e. frequently socialize)
- Details explaining how the person acquired this knowledge (i.e. friends)
- Date and signature
Remember, the affidavit is supporting evidence to prove that the couple has a bona fide marriage. That is, the marriage is true and genuine. So the affiant should ideally provide a short account of why he or she believes this is true. The affiant can use a story that proved mutual commitment, for instance, and the hard work that the couple have put into the immigration process,.
The letter does not need to be notarized, but include a valid ID; it is helpful to include a sworn statement that states, “I swear, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.”
Boundless can help you avoid common pitfalls in the immigration process with unlimited support from our team of immigration experts. Learn more.
If any of your documents is written in a language other than English, you will be required to submit a certified English translation. These services are generally available from private certified translation services and can even be done online.
You should also check the website of the U.S. Embassy or consulate in your home country for a list of certified translation services. Use caution, however, when contacting these services, as they are not endorsed by the U.S. Department of State.
Also check the website of the U.S. Embassy or consulate in your home country for specific rules on English translations. Birth certificates and court records issued by Greek authorities, for instance, may only be translated into English by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Boundless can help guide you through the entire green card process, including gathering all of these documents together Get started today!