The USCIS Genealogy Program has proposed an outrageous new fee hike, which will also change how some documents are provided. The fee for initiating an Index Search for an individual will rise from $65 to $100. If the person searched has digitized records, they will be provided. If there are no digitized records, which is the case for many of the documents, a second fee will be required — $240 per record!
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says this might improve service for some people. However, given that the current wait time for an Index Search is 245 business days, and the wait time for a Records Request is 275 business days, it is hard to know how this tweak in service will change the current two-plus year long wait.
The USCIS Genealogy Program is a “black box” with no transparency. Their system for serving customers lacks any efficiency for those who know the records of their ancestors are on paper. These documents are not at all accessible, and these price hikes make it doubly so.
What can you do about this?
If you are outraged about the consistent lack of transparency, efficiency, and accessibility to these documents in the Genealogy Program at USCIS, PLEASE SUBMIT A WRITTEN EXPRESSION OF YOUR CONCERNS. Then, contact your senators and representatives.
RecordsNotRevenue.com, a grassroots group formed during the last fee fight in 2019-2020, created clear and concise bullet points to explain all the issues and provides you with three easy steps to take action. Genealogists, historians, librarians, journalists and educators rallied together and fought the proposed fee hike last time. And we won. Let’s do it again. https://www.recordsnotrevenue.com/take-action
Why should you care?
The records held in the Genealogy Program at USCIS largely relate to 20th-century immigrants. Any Japanese Americans researching their immigrant ancestors in the U.S. will likely have historical immigration records in this collection. These include A-files, C-files, Visa Files, Registry Files and Alien Registration forms.
But what are these, and why do you need them?
Alien Files (A-files) are individual records of immigrants who had contact with the INS in or after 1944. These began to be created in 1944 but may contain information about an immigrant’s history in the U.S. from the time of immigration. A-Files for immigrants born more than 100 years ago should have been released to the National Archives. USCIS still holds more than 50 percent of those records, which SHOULD have been released. Why haven’t they been released?
Alien Registration Forms (AR2s) were required of all aliens not naturalized and residing in, or arriving into, the U.S. between Aug. 1, 1940 and March 31, 1944. This series is the only set of genealogy records at USCIS to be fully digitized. While held on microfilm at the National Archives, USCIS restricts their access. Why? Why must we go through USCIS to obtain these documents already held at NARA?
Citizenship Files (C-files) are records of those who naturalized between Sept. 27, 1906 and March 21, 1956, as well as those who naturalized as soldiers serving overseas, and some who were repatriated or who derived citizenship through a parent or spouse. Some of these have been digitized, but USCIS controls all access to them.
Visa Files are paper files pertaining to immigrants who arrived for permanent residence between July 1, 1924 and March 31, 1924. These were eligible to be transferred to the National Archives in 2019. Why have these not been released?
Registry Files are paper files that were eligible to be transferred to the National Archives in 2019. They are full of genealogical information. These files apply to individuals who arrived between June 29, 1906 and July 1, 1924, but for whom no arrival could be found. Visa files helped the immigrant to move forward with naturalization. Why have these not been released?
Help us with the fight — write and submit a comment today!
Linda Harms Okazaki is a professional genealogist who is past president of the California Genealogical Society. She specializes in Japanese American records. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.