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General Guidance for Filing

USCIS still relies on printed documents for many of its petitions. In fact, USCIS requires only original signatures on its forms (although they are now accepting "reproduced original" signatures), which can otherwise be downloaded, copied, etc. but make sure the original copy has an indisputably original signature in the required places. Any material not in English must be accompanied by a full English translation. The translator must sign a certification that the English language translation is complete and accurate, and that they are competent to translate from the foreign language into English. The certification must also include their signature, printed name, the signature date, and their contact information:

I, [name], certify that I am competent to translate from __________ into English, and that the English language translation is/are a complete and accurate translation(s) of the original document.
Date: ___________
Printed Name: ______________
Signature: _________________
Contact Information: ____________

Any responsible person can sign the certification.

Picayune details abound, but attention to them will minimize mailroom errors, facilitate the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) examiner's life and redound to your benefit. 

  • Do not submit taped or other electronic media to USCIS because it has no means of viewing or listening to such items.
  • USCIS will gladly take legible copies of all documents, even faxes, including labor consultations and other supporting documentation. Indeed, USCIS would just as soon receive 8-1/2 x 11 copies (fax copies are fine) of anything that in its original format - oversize documents, photos that don't fold, bulky brochures bound to one side - impedes the examiner's handling of the petition.
  • Submit all required documentation at once. Once the petition/application is submitted, forget trying to send in any additional information, except in response to a USCIS request for additional information. If you omitted something critical, consider re-filing (with new fee) to save time, and withdrawing the old petition.
  • Separate voluminous exhibits by plain paper inserts referenced as Exh. 1, 2, 3, etc., correlated to the petitioner letter. Supply an index for voluminous exhibits.
  • Sign all forms in blue ink to eliminate any question whether the signature is an original. Although USCIS has made permanent what had been a temporary flexibility in accepting a "reproduced original signature" on documents, including the Form I-129, petitions may still wish to err on the side of caution and use blue ink wherever signatures are required or some method that conveys visually that the signature is original and not the result of a stamp, auto-pen, or other type of device.
  • Mark the outside of the envelope of an initial filing "I-129/O-1B[O-2, etc.]." If an extension of stay or change of status is involved, add "w/ES" or "w/COS."
  • See the USCIS Service Center Tips and Contact Information for the address to send your regular or premium-processing visa petition. While all O and P petitions now go to the Texas Service Center, the zip+4 varies depending on the method of mailing and whether or not a petitioner is requesting Premium Processing Service. We encourage the use of air courier services because of the tracking ability.
  • Send principal and support petitions in the same envelope. Clip them together with a binder clip, but attach separate checks to the petitions. With a new fee structure in place, triple-check the required filing fee on the USCIS website depending on your circumstances, noting that O and P visas now have different prices. (Also, please be sure to write a separate check for the Asylum Program Fee if it applies at either the full or discounted rate). Similarly, submit any accompanying I-539 applications at the same time, accompanied by separate checks. For petitions involving beneficiary groups exceeding 25 people, note that separate petitions are now required. Large-group petitions may be mailed together in the same envelope but each petition must be self-contained and include its own I-129, cover letter, itinerary, evidence, copy of labor consultation, filing fee, etc.. While USCIS will not consider one to be the lead petition among the group, it may be beneficial to indicate on a separate cover page how many component petitions are contained and to label each petition with its own cover sheet identifying it as Petition 1 of 2, Petition 2 of 2, etc. in case they get separated. Again, reconfirm the fee based on the classification you are seeking and your status as the petitioner to see which fee reductions you may qualify for.
  • 501(c)3 nonprofit petitioners may include evidence of nonprofit status with other supporting documentation. Petitioners may provide any relevant evidence to establish eligibility, including an organization’s determination letter from the IRS or a copy of a currently valid IRS tax exemption certificate.
  • Small Employers that are not 501(c)3 nonprofit petitioners that qualify for reduced filing fee and Asylum Program Fee ($300 rather than $600 for each petition) must include proof of employing 25 or fewer full-time equivalent employees. Possible evidence includes a copy of the petitioner’s most recent IRS Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Return. However, petitioners may submit any relevant evidence that shows the number of full-time equivalent employees by a preponderance of the evidence. In the event the actual number of full-time equivalent employees differs from the number on Form 941, petitions must explain why this is the case and why the preponderance of evidence supports the “actual number” rather than the listed number on Form 941.
    • Salary information may be redacted from Form 941 when the evidence is only to support eligibility for a reduced fee and the redacted information is not otherwise relevant to the adjudication.
    • The USCIS FAQ page addresses this question with the following: “Generally, the number of full-time equivalent employees equals the number of full-time employees plus the number of part-time employees aggregated to full-time equivalents at the time of filing. The IRS defines an employee as an individual who receives “wages,” with applicable taxes deducted, along with Social Security and unemployment deductions, and who receives a W-2 reporting their income.” The employee count should include all employees regardless of citizenship. Paid season employees count, but not contractors. Beneficiaries of the filing do not count unless they are currently working for the petitioner as an employee as the time of filing. 
  • If you have any special requests or instructions, consider printing them on a red sheet and placing that sheet on top of your filing.

Always include a return air courier mailer at the time of your initial filing. USCIS is getting better at using them. USCIS prefers FedEx, but will use other prepaid envelopes. Include your valid account number, and be sure to indicate your own information as both the sender and recipient, noting that this information must match the contact information for the petitioner listed on the I-129. Note, also, that the mailer must be submitted either with a pre-paid billable stamp or a pre-paid shipping label affixed to the package; USCIS service centers will not accept return mailers that have a handwritten waybill or computer-generated waybill.