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Suggestions for Maintaining Immigration Documents

Practicing immigration attorneys and their staff worldwide have passionate opinions and suggestions regarding how their clients should keep track of their important documents and expiration dates. An organized client can save law firms many precious hours they may otherwise be able to spend developing their case/petition. More importantly, organized clients are positioning themselves for future success, safety, and a reduction in stress. I decided to write this post to give some tricks, tips, and suggestions that I believe will help you in your responsibility to maintain your valid status while living and working in the United States.

Whenever you receive an important document or communication from the United States you should review the information in the document, make sure you understand the information in the document, make sure the information is correct, action any required steps noted in the document, share copies of the document with relevant parties (your attorney, school official, etc.), and then implement your process for storing the document safely.

What is your process for storing documents safely? When saving documents I suggest that clients always keep a copy of the physical documents stored electronically in addition to keeping the hard copies in a safe location. Don’t rely on your law firm, family member, etc. to do this for you. This sounds easy, but many clients are unsure of what documents to save and what documents to recycle along with how long they should save their documents. Other clients only store documents electronically or physically. Best practice is to identify what documents you should save, store them in a safe place, and back them up electronically. I also recommend having the documents organized systematically so that it is easy for you to share them with your attorney, USCIS, or for you to locate a needed document at a later time. An easy way to create a system is to store your documents according to the date the document was issued. This creates an easy record keeping system that will save you and others time in and energy in the future.

What documents should you store? I would recommend chatting with your attorney or counsel regarding what should be saved. For example, some notices from USCIS can be scanned and recycled while others should not. If you are worried about which documents you should hang on to then you can always just keep all communications from USCIS. Here is a non-comprehensive list of documents I would suggest hanging on to:

  • All passports (current and expired)

  • I-797 Approval Notices

  • EAD cards

  • AP cards

  • All I-20s

  • Visas

  • DS-2019s (and other J-1 documents)

  • Certain Receipt Notices

  • Print-outs of your I-94 after returning from foreign travel

  • Social Security Cards

  • Marriage Certificates

  • Divorce Certificates

  • Job offer letters

  • Important email communications

  • Paystubs

  • W-2s

  • Tax Returns

  • AR-11 change of address proof

  • Education documents (degree and transcript copies)

  • Education evaluations

  • Experience letters

  • Birth certificates

  • Other (any other document you identify as important to maintaining a complete record of your immigration in the United States)

Good luck with your document storage! Having a good system in place and keeping the right documents can save a lot of time, effort, money, and even help you possibly avoid an awkward future conversation with an immigration official in the future. Create and maintain your system as soon as you can if you don’t already have one in place!

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