Do it Yourself Immigration Papers

By Maggie Gebremichael

Although you can consult an immigration attorney for assistance, family based immigration petitions can be submitted successfully by individuals. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website provides free immigration forms, instructions and information about filing fees.

Basics

Before sending anything, make sure that the applicant is eligible for a benefit. For example, a Lawful Permanent Resident typically is eligible to take the U.S. citizenship test after being an LPR for five years. The N-400, Application for Naturalization has a 2009 filing fee of $595 plus $80 for biometrics and is available online. Applicants that have legal issues should avoid submitting an application as they will likely be denied and unable to get their money refunded.

A key to submitting successful immigration petitions is to make sure that the paperwork is complete. Do not leave any question blank. Answer questions that do not apply by noting N/A or no and make sure to distinguish the font by using italics to avoid processing errors.

Send the exact amount needed or your case will be delayed as the petition will be returned. Keep a separate folder with a copy of everything that you send along with proof of mailing. A good method is to prepare a cover letter that lists everything that you are submitting. Sign the cover letter and, below the signature, add the numbers associated with the registered mail so that you have evidence of what was included in the mailing. Do not send immigration petitions via regular mail because your paperwork and money might get lost.

Considerations

Most applicants will receive a biometrics appointment at some point during which their fingerprints will be taken and USCIS will conduct a background check. Some charges will prevent applicants from obtaining an immigration benefit. Make sure to address any outstanding warrants and tickets. Also, be honest with your responses. To check your immigration background, complete a Freedom of Information Act request, Form G-639. There is no filing fee for a FOIA, but there is a nominal charge if your file contains several copies. Additionally, you can request a FBI background check for $18 to get an idea of what USCIS might uncover.

Checklists

Keep a checklist to stay organized. Immigration petitions typically involve several items, but USCIS does not publish checklists, so you have to search for information.

A checklist for only a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative would include a complete I-130 with the signature of the petitioner and applicant along with evidence to establish the relationship between the petitioner and applicant.

Proof of legal entry is required if the applicant is within the U.S. (usually a copy of the I-94 and stamped passport book), though exceptions include countries with visa waiver programs, such as Canada. If the applicant is your spouse, a passport style photo of you and your spouse is needed along with four Form G-325s for each person. Usually, copies of final divorce decrees must be sent with English translation if the document is in another language. Check the I-130 instructions for the proper mailing address and filing fee.