How to Find Out If a Person is Legally in the USA

By Judith Evans - Updated June 09, 2017
Legal series

Immigration databases are available for individuals to check their own immigration status and for employer verification of employee immigration status. You cannot check the status of a third party without written consent. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) websites can show you how to find out if someone is a U.S. citizen. Other DHS agencies that maintain immigration records include Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

E-Verify for Employers

Employers check the immigration status of employees in the USCIS E-Verify system. Once you have completed the enrollment steps on the E-Verify webpage and review and sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), you will have to watch a video tutorial that explains how to find out someone’s immigration status.

An employee must fill out a Form I-9 and provide a supporting document, such as passport or work permit. After completing the information from the Form I-9 on E-Verify, the system will create a case and display a photo that should match the photo on the supporting document that your employee provided.

E-Verify will then display one of three results.

  • "Employment Authorized" means that the employee is a legal immigrant and is authorized to work in the United States. 
  • "Review and Update Employee Data" means that an error needs correcting on the employee's Form I-9. 
  • "Tentative Non-Confirmation" means that information on the Form I-9 did not match government records, and the employee must visit the nearest Social Security Administration or DHS office to contest the result. 

If the government must review the information manually, E-Verify will display "DHS Verification in Process" and will send the results within 48 hours.

Self-Check

The USCIS Self-Check tool lets you check your own immigration status. Self-check prompts you to enter identification information, such as name, address, and date of birth. Self-check then sends your data to a third-party identity service that generates a quiz for you to take to confirm your identity.

After you pass the quiz, Self-Check prompts you to enter your SSN, citizenship and green card or other immigration documentation. The system then checks your submitted documentation and generates a response that you are either authorized to work in the United States or that the information you provided does not match government records. If there is a mismatch, Self-Check informs you how to correct your records.

FOIA Request

You can check your own immigration status, or a third party's status with his written consent, by filing a FOIA request with the appropriate DHS agency. First, decide what record you are requesting, such as documents or emails. The DHS website has information on which agency has the record you need. For example, the USCIS has information about applications for citizenship through marriage, while ICE has information on detainees.

You can submit a FOIA request electronically on the DHS website. To request by mail, email, or fax, print and fill out Form G-639 from the USCIS website or draft a letter to the appropriate agency. Your letter should include your name, contact information, description of the record you need, and your notarized signature. If you are requesting third party records, you must attach a release statement from that party. You can find contact information for DHS agencies on the FOIA contact information page.

Your FOIA request is an implied agreement to pay any fees up to $25. DHS agencies charge fees for some FOIA requests, including requests that take longer than two hours to research or require more than 100 copied pages. The agency notifies you if the fee is greater than $25.

About the Author

Judith Evans has been writing professionally since 2009, specializing in gardening and fitness articles. An avid gardener, Evans has a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of New Hampshire, a Juris Doctor from Vermont Law School, and a personal trainer certificate from American Fitness Professionals and Associates.

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