Proving lawful entry and status in the United States
If you’re applying for a family-based or marriage-based green card from within the United States, you must prove that you are eligible for one. To do this, your travel documents must show that you entered the country lawfully and have maintained lawful status — meaning you’ve been documented — while waiting for your case to be approved. (Undocumented spouses may still be eligible for a marriage-based green card, but it's important to understand the rules for this situation.)
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to requesting a copy of your I-94 travel record (officially called the “Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record”) or the visa from your passport if you cannot locate them. We’ll also cover alternative options if these documents are not available.
Who must submit a copy of their travel documents?
Only the relative seeking a green card from within the United States must submit their travel documents to the U.S. government. They must also bring these documents to their green card interview.
Which travel documents are required in order to prove lawful U.S. entry and status?
The I-94 travel record generally suffices to prove both lawful U.S. entry and status. This document is issued by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer and attached to your passport when you enter the United States.
You should also provide, however, a photocopy of your passport page containing the admission stamp issued by a U.S. immigration officer and the page with your visa — if they’re available — in order to further prove lawful entry.
With RapidVisa, you get an independent immigration attorney to answer all of your questions — including those about your I-94 travel record and other green card documents — for no additional fee.
Where to Get a Copy of Your I-94
How to Replace a Lost I-94 Form
If you cannot locate either your passport containing your admission stamp and visa or your I-94 travel record, you may request these records from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but the method you must follow depends on when you arrived in the United States:
- If you entered the United States before April 2013, you may request a replacement of your I-94 by submitting Form I-102 (officially called the “Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Document”). You must mail your completed form to USCIS and pay a filing fee of $445.
- If you entered the United States after April 2013, you may request a copy of your most recent I-94 and travel history from the past five years from CBP. There is no cost for this service.
Although the above options are the fastest ways to obtain your records, you may instead request the release of your records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Processing this request, however, can take up to one year.
There are three ways to submit a FOIA request:
- Complete an online form. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides an online submission form that it will forward to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) once completed. Alternatively, you can make the same request to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but CBP generally processes such requests much faster.
- Complete a paper form. USCIS also provides a paper form (G-639) for this procedure, but it is generally not required and takes much longer than an online request through CBP. If you choose this option, you must follow the specific instructions on the form.
- Write to USCIS. If you prefer, you can also write your request and mail or fax it to the National Records Center of USCIS.
If you choose the third option, you must submit your request with the following:
- Your full name, address, and phone number
- A detailed description of the records you seek (be as specific as possible)
- A statement of your willingness to pay any fees (currently up to $25) associated with the request
- Your signature witnessed by a notary public
RapidVisa makes it easy to complete your green card application, guiding you through all the documents you need to submit.
If you cannot produce your travel records through one of the above options, DHS will presume that you entered the United States unlawfully (officially termed "without inspection"). In such cases, you must instead submit both of the following:
- A notarized personal affidavit (written statement) in which you fully explain why the documents are not available
- Any other evidence that supports your claim that you entered the United States lawfully (for example, an airline receipt of your plane ticket, your boarding pass from the day you traveled to the United States, or a copy of one of your parents’ passports showing an admission stamp and visa if you arrived with them)
If other evidence is also not available, you must submit at least two additional notarized personal affidavits (written statements) from other people who have personal knowledge of your lawful entry to the United States.
All affidavits, including those from you and other people, should explain the following in detail:
- When and where you entered the United States
- What travel documents you had, if any
- Whether you showed your travel documents to the U.S. immigration officer who inspected you
- Any questions the immigration officer asked you
- Any other details you can provide about your entry to the United States
With RapidVisa, you can easily organize all of your documents and keep them together securely online in one place.