1. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Privacy Act (PA) requests can be helpful if an applicant does not have any documents or is having trouble remembering a certain event.
a. I am currently working with an applicant who believes she made a misrepresentation at a previous naturalization interview. I suspect that she is confused based on the information she has given me, but I filed a request just to confirm the information I already have and see if anything unexpected comes up.
2. Making the Request
The form suggested by USCIS is Form G-639, but it is not required. Any written request for documents may be submitted in lieu of using this form. I find it helpful to use because it specifies information that commonly appears on immigration records. As with any form, the more information the applicant can provide, the better.
a. Practice Tip: I also submit a cover letter with the FOIA request form to explain the purpose of the request, and any additional information that is not adequately explained by the form.
i. I am attaching a sample cover letter that I use – feel free to make appropriate changes and use it.
3. Sending the Request
Requests can be submitted via mail, email, or fax. I have used both email and fax to submit requests. You will receive an automatic reply if you submit via email. Regardless of the method used, you will receive an acknowledgment letter once the office has reviewed the request.
a. Regular Mail: National Records Center, FOIA/PA Office
P.O. Box 648010
Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010
b. Overnight/Certified Mail: National Records Center, FOIA/PA Office
150 Space Center Loop,
Lee’s Summit, MO
c. Email: email@example.com
d. Fax: (802) 288-1793 or (816) 350-5785
4. Processing the Request
USCIS uses a track-system to process FOIA requests for alien files, utilizing “first in/first out.” The time it takes to process each request depends into which track the request is placed (and of course, these are only approximations of time – the request may take longer to process). The acknowledgment letter will indicate on which track your request is being processed, and also allows you to narrow your request for specific documents if you so choose.
a. Track One: Simple requests (requestor only needs a few specific documents)
i. About 21 business days
b. Track Two: Complex Inquiries (requestor is asking for complete copy of file)
i. About 38 business days
c. Track Three: Requests for individuals who have a hearing scheduled with an Immigration Judge (IJ)
i. About 24 business days
5. Expediting the Request
You may request for a request to be expedited on the grounds of either:
a. The lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to life or physical safety of an individual
There is an urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity (if the requestor is primarily engaged in disseminating information, e.g. news media, special interest groups)
The request to expedite a request must include a certified statement addressing the basis for the request. A decision of whether to grant expedited treatment is done on a case-by-case basis, and will be made within 10 calendar days of the request. If denied, the request will be placed into the regular track processing.
6. Checking the Request
You are able to check the status of your request using the control number provided on the acknowledgment letter. Generally, it will begin with “NRC” followed by a series of numbers. The status is updated on a daily basis.
a. Check here: egov.uscis.gov/foiawebstatus/