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What counts as proof of legal status in the U.S.?

In the United States, there are several occasions when you are required to provide proof of your legal status. But how can you prove your legal status? Learn more in this article

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You’ll need to prove your legal status when you’re looking for a job, applying for a learner’s permit or a driver’s license, or submitting certain immigration petitions and applications. You may also be asked to furnish proof of your legal status by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials at any time.

But how can you prove your legal status? Below, we share different options that count as proof of your legal status in the U.S. 

Proof of U.S. citizenship

U.S. citizens are legally permitted to live and work in the country indefinitely. If you are a citizen of the United States, the documents that can be used to prove your legal status depend on how you obtained your citizenship:

  • If born in the U.S., your birth certificate will suffice 

  • If you born outside the country, use Form N-600 (Certificate of Citizenship) with Form FS-240 (Consular Report of Birth Abroad

  • If you are a naturalized citizen, use your Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship

In addition to these documents, you can also use the following to prove your legal status:

  1. A United States passport

  2. Social Security card or Social Security Number (SSN) 

Proof of legal status for Non-U.S. citizens

If you are a nonimmigrant, there are several documents that can be used to establish that you are legally present in the United States.

Permanent resident card

If you are a permanent resident of the United States (a green card holder), you are legally allowed to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis. A valid permanent resident card (Form I-551) can be used to prove your legal status in the country.

Both new (issued after May 1, 2017) and old versions of a green card can be used to establish your legal status. The new version of the green card contains your photo and therefore serves as a photo identification. It also contains your name, your date of birth, your U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) number, the document’s expiration date and a laser-engraved fingerprint.

Older versions of the green card contain the same information plus your alien registration number (A-number).

An employment authorization card

An employment authorization card (EAD), more commonly known as a work permit, provides nonimmigrants with authorization to work in the United States on a temporary basis. If you have an employment authorization card, you can use it to establish your legal presence in the U.S.

This card features your photograph on both the front and back, your legal name, your USCIS number, your EAD card number, your date of birth, your fingerprints and the expiration date of the document. 

Passport of the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands

Citizens of Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands are legally allowed to work in the United States, and they do not require an employment authorization document to do so.

A passport issued from one of these countries can be used to establish your legal status in the United States. In addition to a passport, you must also present a Form I-94 or Form I-94A to indicate your nonimmigrant admission to the country. 

A foreign passport with an I-551 stamp or MRIV

A foreign passport can be used to establish your legal status in the United States. The passport must be valid and accompanied by an arrival/departure record (Form I-94). Additionally, the passport must contain a valid machine-readable immigrant visa (MRIV).  A valid passport card can be used in place of a foreign passport.

Form I-20 (Certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant students)

You can also use a Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Students) to prove your legal status in the United States.

Form I-20 must be accompanied by either Form I-94 or a Form I094A. Additionally, the document must be endorsed by a designated school official to illustrate employment authorization for curricular practical training. 

Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status)

If you are a nonimmigrant exchange visitor (J-1 visa holder), a valid Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status) can be used to establish your legal status. Note that Form DS-2019 must also be accompanied by Form I-94 or Form I-94A.

Form I-94 or Form I-94A (Arrival/Departure Record)

Customs and Boarder Protection (and in some cases, USCIS) officials issue arrival/departure records (Form I-94 or Form I-94A) to nonimmigrants. The arrival/departure record indicates your immigration status, the date your status was granted and the date that your status expires. Therefore, Form I-94 or Form I-94A can be used to establish your legal status in the United States. 

Other documents that can be used to prove legal status in the U.S. 

In addition to the documents listed above, the following documents also count as proof of legal status in the U.S.:

  • A valid reentry permit (Form I-327)

  • A refugee travel document (Form I-571)

  • A notice of action (Form I-797)

  • A certification from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)

  • A document that indicates withholding of removal or withholding of deportation 

  • An administrative order issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (USDHS or DHS) staying removal

  • An eligibility letter issued by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) (for those who are under the age of 18)

  • A document that indicates you are a member of a Native American tribe recognized by the federal government 

  • A Resident of American Samoa Card

When do you need to provide proof of legal status? 

There are several instances when you may be asked to provide proof of your legal status in the United States. Some of the most common reasons include: 

  • Employment. In order to work in the U.S., you must be a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident and have a valid employment authorization document (EAD) or a valid visa. 

  • Insurance. If you wish to purchase health insurance in the United States, you must establish your legal status.

  • Opening a bank account. If you are planning on opening a bank account (checking or savings) with a U.S. financial institution, you must establish your legal status in the U.S. 

  • Applying for a loan. If you are applying for any type of loan (auto, personal, student or mortgage, for example), you will be required to prove your legal status. 

  • Interactions with law enforcement officials. If you ever have an interaction with law enforcement officials, you will be asked to prove your legal status in the U.S.; if you cannot provide proof, it is likely that ICE will be notified.

  • Interactions with ICE officials. If you ever encounter ICE officials, it is likely that you will be asked to provide proof of your legal status. 

  • When entering/exiting the country. If you plan on entering or exiting the United States, you must provide proof of your legal status. If you are unable to do so, you may be detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.

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