How to File a USCIS FOIA Request

Your immigration records hold a lot of important information about you and the immigration proceedings you have been through up to this point. Regardless of what you are trying to do next, it may be helpful to have access to certain documents. Luckily, there are systems in place by the government which allows you to obtain those documents in a lawful manner, including Form G-639.

What Is a Form G-639, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request?

As a part of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a Form G-639, Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Request, is a form used to obtain U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) immigration records, data, agency policies, and many more documents from the government. A FOIA request can be extremely useful when gathering evidence for an adjustment of status.

Before using a USCIS FOIA G-639 form, double-check to make sure that USCIS has not already added the desired documents to your USCIS account. You should also check the Electronic Reading Room, a database updated by USCIS that contains documents that have been requested three or more separate times. This can save both you and USCIS time.

A FOIA request can be made online or by mail; the mail processing may take additional time to complete.

What Is the Freedom of Information Act?

Also called FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act is a U.S. federal law that requires any data, information, or documents controlled by the government to be disclosed by request either partially or completely. FOIA includes any files that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services maintains control over. To gain access to your own or another person’s immigration records, you can submit a Form G-639 FOIA request. You must have the other person’s permission if you are filing a G-639 to access their records.

A FOIA request should not be used to request any records of naturalization or proof of status determined before September 27, 1906. A FOIA request should also not be used to check on a pending application, request the return of original documents, or notify a consular of petition approval.

Immigration officials also reserve the right to block out any information on the documents you request that are not directly pertinent to the subject of record. This could include identifying information about government officials or officers who partook in the process but are not essential personnel to the case.

USCIS FOIA Request System

USCIS has a three-track system for processing FOIA requests. The first track is reserved for simpler cases in which the requestor or petitioner only requests a small number of documents.

The second track handles more complicated requests, such as complete copies of files or more protected documents from groups of special interest.

The third and final track deals with requests from individuals who must appear in court before an immigration judge. Track three cases are prioritized over the other two tracks because they typically involve removal and deportation proceedings, which are more time-sensitive.

For a FOIA application to qualify as a track three request, it must include one of the following:

  • I-122, Order to Show Cause
  • I-862, Notice to Appear
  • I-863, Notice of Referral to Immigration Judge, or;
  • Written notice stating the continuation of a hearing with an immigration judge

USCIS FOIA Request Form G-639 Instructions

Depending on who is requesting the information, a FOIA form may require a variety of documents. If you are requesting information for a minor with Form G-639, you will need to provide some proof of your status as a legal guardian or parent. This could include any birth certificates or adoption documents that list you as a parent.

You would also need to provide a certificate of death, funeral information, or obituary report if requesting information for a deceased individual.

In general, there are six parts to a G-639 FOIA request.

Part 1: Request Type

The first section of a FOIA form is where you indicate what type of request you are submitting. All you have to do is check box 1.a. for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)/Privacy Act (PA) request or check box 1.b. for an Amendment of Record request. Amendment of Record requests only apply to the Privacy Act.

Part 2: Information About Requestor

Part 2 is where you indicate if the record you are requesting is for yourself or on behalf of someone else. If you are not the subject for which the record is being requested, select your role in the boxes. Attorneys, family members, or accredited representatives are allowed to use this form to request information on another’s behalf.

In this section, you will also fill out the full name, mailing address, and contact information of the requestor. The requestor must certify the form at the end of Part 2, agreeing to any costs pertaining to the duplication, review, or search of documents, up to a maximum cost of $25.

Part 3: Description of Requested Records

Part 3 is the main portion of the G-639 FOIA request. This is where you will include a description of the record you are requesting and any other pertinent details. In line 1 of Part 3, you will want to fill in the purpose of your request. After that you should fill out the full name of the subject of record and indicate if their name has changed since the time they entered the U.S.

Lines 6-9 are for providing other information about the subject of record. This includes their I-94 Arrival-Departure Record number, the numbers on their passport or travel document, their Alien Registration number (A-Number), their USCIS online account number, and their application or petition receipt number.

Lines 10-15 are all about the names of family members who may be involved in the requested records. This includes the name of the subject of record’s parents, children, spouse, etc. This means full names and maiden names when applicable.

The last section (line 16) is provided to include a description of the records you are seeking. Try to be as thorough and specific as you can when discussing the records you would like. If you are not clear enough on what it is you are looking for, USCIS will request more information, which could delay the process.

Part 4: Verification of Identity and Subject of Record Consent

Part 4 of the FOIA request form is to verify the subject of record’s identity and confirm consent. Complete the boxes with the full name, date of birth, country of birth, mailing address, and other contact information of the subject of record. If different from the individual filing the request, the subject of record must sign in this section. If the subject of record is deceased, whoever is filing the FOIA request must attach proof of death in some form.

Part 5: Processing Information

This section pertains mainly to the details of processing and includes a place for you to indicate whether the filing of this request is time-sensitive. If the rate of processing could in any way pose a threat to your life, safety, or legal status, you should check the appropriate box. If you check one of these requests, you will also need to submit a detailed and certified statement that explains your situation.

If you have an upcoming court date, you should submit copies of the following forms along with your FOIA request:

  • I-122, Order to Show Cause
  • I-862, Notice to Appear
  • I-863, Note of Referral to Immigration Judge, or you can submit a written notice of continuation of a future scheduled hearing before the immigration judge

Do not indicate concerns with processing time if they are not legitimate, as you may cause delays for other applicants in a time-sensitive situation.

Part 6: Additional Information

As per usual, this section is provided if you need additional space to answer any of the questions posed in any other section. While this is an easier form than many others and typically doesn’t require extra space, make sure to include the proper Page, Part, and Item reference in all subsequent boxes. You can also attach a separate sheet of paper onto the back of the petition if necessary, as long as it is labeled with your A-Number.

Checking Your FOIA Request Status

Once you have submitted your USCIS FOIA form, you will receive an acknowledgment letter in the mail from USCIS. That letter should contain a request number that can be used to check on the status of your request through the public site of whichever entity you are attempting to obtain records from.

For example, if you submit a request to an office in the U.S. Department of Treasury, you can check the status through their public access link. The Treasury is currently working on a system to track the status of FOIAs from their website, which will hopefully be functional in the near future.

These links will allow you to check whether your FOIA request has been processed or if it is still pending. If USCIS has processed your request within the previous six months, it will display the date it was handled. If not, the status will show the position of your request relative to other requests in your respective track.

FOIA Form G-639 Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a USCIS FOIA request cost?

While there is usually no cost associated with a FOIA form, you are required to sign for a maximum payment of $25 when you file the G-639. The easier that your request is to fulfill, the lower the likelihood of you paying that fee.

If the fees necessary for the G-639 form end up being greater than $25, you will be notified by USCIS. If you haven’t yet agreed to pay the fee and a fee is necessary, then you will also receive a notice from USCIS. This fee must be paid before the requested information can be provided.

How long does a USCIS FOIA request take?

For simple cases, you can expect an acknowledgment of receipt from USCIS within 20 days of your initial request. The entire process of fulfilling the FOIA request can take weeks or months. If USCIS is very busy, it might take longer than expected.

For some complicated requests, it can take more than six months to fully process. USCIS can extend their response time by 10 days to collect large volumes of records or if a third-party agency needs to be contacted. You will be notified if this is the case.

Additionally, cases may be prioritized if there are removal proceedings in place and the requestor has a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge.

How long does USCIS keep records for?

USCIS will keep any information pertaining to lawful permanent residents or immigrants who enter the U.S. legally or illegally for 100 years.

Are there any records I can’t reach with a FOIA request?

Along with not being able to request certain records before September 27, 1906, FOIA immigration requests cannot access immigration records before 1982.

Where do I mail my Form G-639

The Form G-639 mailing address is as follows:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services National Records Center

FOIA/PA Office P.O. Box 648010

Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010

If you wish to submit an amendment request through the Privacy Act, you can mail a comprehensive request to the following address:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

CE Privacy and Records

ATTN: Privacy Branch

500 12th Street SW, Stop 5004

Washington, D.C. 20536-5004

How Can Scott D. Pollock & Associates, P.C. Help Me?

Our Chicago immigration law firm can guide you through your immigration case with ample knowledge of the most reliable practices. One G-639 FOIA form could change your immigration status entirely, so it can help to have the help of a professional.

Contact our experienced immigration lawyers today to learn more about what you can do to set yourself up for success. Or, if you’re already further along in the process, check out our immigration litigation attorneys for representation and guidance in the courtroom.

We're looking forward to hearing from you!