How to file FOIA request with USCIS? Step by Step Guide, FAQs

Sometimes, you may be in a situation where your employer is not sharing with you information related to the immigration petition submitted to USCIS or DOL like I-140 petition details or PERM Labor Certification. In such situations, you could use an option called the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get information related to your H1B LCA, PERM LC, or I-140 petition filed for your Green Card process. In this article, we will provide step by step guide to requesting information related to your immigration petitions from agencies like USCIS and DOL.

What is Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. ยง 552, is a freedom of information federal law that requires the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government agencies upon request. It is something that allows individuals to request information about their petition or application that was filed with a US Federal Agency.

Complete Guide to request Details using FOIA

Below are the steps that you can follow to request information related to you using the FOIA. The steps give you general information on identifying agency on FOIA website and then the steps are explained based on the FOIA request submitted with USCIS.

Step 1: Search and Find the agency in FOIA website

FOIA has it’s own government website at https://www.foia.gov/ and the first step that you would do is to click on Start your request button to start searching for the agency.

Once you click on Start your request, you would see the below the search box, where you would enter USCIS and see the full agency name

Once you select USCIS agency from the dropdown, you would see the below message about USCIS and FOIA not being integrated fully and they would ask you to contact USCIS through an online submission form.

There is also a piece of additional information about the history of processing times for FOIA at USCIS and key contacts at USCIS related to FOIA. Typically USCIS takes around 2 months to process your FOIA request.

Step 2: Visit USCIS website and Create/Login to Account

If you followed the above link of the online submission form from the FOIA website, you would land on the https://myaccount.uscis.gov/ website. If you do not already have an account, create a USCIS account and login into the account. You would see the below screen once you login to your account. Click on the link FIRST. This would take you to the USCIS portal to file FOIA requests.

Once you are successfully logged into FIRST portal of USCIS at URL https://first.uscis.gov/#/, you would see the below page. This screen has options to file FOIA or PA requests. It would list three options.

  1. For Myself
  2. On Behalf of Someone Else
  3. Other requests

Click on the Start Application link under For My Self option. You would also notice the requirements before you start your FOIA application with USCIS. In most cases the information needed is minimal, but as you progress through your FOIA request steps you may be asked to provide additional information based on the information request.

Step 3: FOIA Application at USCIS

Grab all the required details before you start this process. This includes your A- record number, and other dependent’s information.

1. Identity Verification – Enter Name

This is the first screen as part of your application and would ask you to enter your identity (mainly first name, middle name, and last name). There is also a field to capture the intent of the request and is optional to enter. You may choose to give a reason why you are requesting a specific type of document from USCIS through FOIA. For example, you might want to say my employer has not shared the I-140 petition and would like to have a copy of it with me.

If you look at the above screenshot carefully, the only mandatory fields are Last name and First name, everything else is optional. Click Next, once you enter your details.

2. Identity Verification – Enter Country, Date of Birth, Family, and Contact

This step has three substeps to capture a lot of details about your family and other contact details. The first screen you would see after the previous step is to enter details about your country of birth, and date of birth shown below:

Once you fill in the details, click on Next. Please note that all the fields in the above screen are mandatory. The next screen will present you with a set of questions related to your dependents and your parents.

Note that the dependent information is optional, however, if you do not provide the agency might redact the information related to your dependents in the documents provided to you.

Father and Mother names are the mandatory fields in this screen. Check the below example screenshot. In this screen you will also be asked to enter passport number, A-record number and other details like receipt number of the petition you are requesting for.

3. Enter Contact Information

Once you click on Next you would see the screen asking for the contact details of the applicant. This screen asks for your mailing address, phone number, and email. Your email will be filled in automatically (the one that is used to log in to USCIS) and is not editable.

4. FOIA Request Details

This is the step that we have been waiting for and this is where we request the documents needed. This screen lists out all the available forms under FOIA on the left side and on the right it shows your selection of the forms. In one FOIA, request you can ask for multiple forms. In the below sample screenshot, you can see the applicant has selected to request for their I-140 and PERM Labor Certificate.

5. Processing Information

This step is to understand the applicant’s situation. If the FOIA request is being made under the circumstances listed, the agency may speed up processing your request or may provide you with additional forms to fill in.

6. Upload Documents

In this step, you would be asked to upload any relevant document for the FOIA request. For example, you can upload your receipt notices here so that the USCIS officials can correlate any other information needed from the receipt notice.

7. Review and Submit Information

Once you have entered all the information, the step let’s applicant review the information entered in all the previous screens. Please verify the details carefully and click on the Edit link next to each section to modify if you entered any incorrect information. Providing the correct information for FOIA is crucial and would help speed up the process to locate your documents as well.

Once you submit the application, there will be a control number generated for this request and can be used to track your FOIA application with USCIS. Initially, the application will be in the Request Submitted Stage. This is the first step of the FOIA request.

Step 4: Track Application Status

You can track the status of the application through the same USCIS portal by clicking on My Requests.

Depending on the progression of your FOIA request, you would see it transition through different stages as shown below in the sample screenshot.

You can click on Document Library Tab at the top to see the available documents to download. The below sample screenshot shows an acknowledgment letter from USCIS for the FOIA request.

Step 5 : Final Status of FOIA Request

Once your request is processed and USCIS did not have any issues locating your document and office of the records verified your details and redacted necessary information, then the status of the application will be changed to complete. The applicant also gets an email with the case status change. Below is the sample of the screenshot of both the case status section and document library section after the case status is changed to complete.

FOIA Processing Times

As per the data provided by USCIS, the average time is around 60 days to process FOIA requests. It may get delayed if there is a mismatch or incorrect information provided by the applicant. The processing times also vary depending on the load on the agency.

Common Frequently Asked Questions

What is the cost of an USCIS FOIA request?

When you file your FOIA request, you would receive an acknowledgement letter in download section that would clarify on the fees that are applicable with FOIA requests. Most requests do not require any fees; however, if fees in excess of $25.00 are required (for clerical, professional and managerial activities), USCIS will notify you beforehand.

How to Avoid Cost for USCIS FOIA request?

If you can limit your FOIA request to be very specific, then you can avoid costs for your requests. For example, instead of asking for all the things, ask for a specific record that is important and is generally not available to you through your immigration attorney or employer.

Is online the only option to file for FOIA with USCIS?

No. You can file a paper-based FOIA request by filling form G-639.

Will my employer know about the FOIA request?

No. Your employer will not know any information about your FOIA requests.

Why do I need to request documents through FOIA?

In some cases, employers do not share certain application forms with the employees. It is always better to have all the immigration petitions filed by your employer with the employee and this would also help you review your case with another attorney if needed.

What else can I request under FOIA with USCIS?

You can request immigration records, agency policies, data, communications, and other records which are otherwise not publicly accesssible through USCIS electronic reading room.

Did you file a FOIA Request ? What was your experience ? Share your thoughts in comments.

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