uscis certified document translation services
certified translation services for uscis

Certified Translations for USCIS - Everything You Need to Know

Published on Sep 22, 2020


If you’re looking to work, study, or immigrate to the US, you will need to:

  1. Make an immigration application
  2. Get certified translations for your foreign language documents

Who likes either of these?

OK that was a rhetorical question. No need to answer.

We know that immigration applications can be daunting, boring and more importantly, confusing. Several of us on the MotaWord team have been there too.

The goal of this article is to help clarify everything you need to know about certified translations for USCIS applications and thus, enable you to focus on your application, rather than the details.

Sounds good? Let’s begin.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Certified translations are required for foreign language documents supporting citizenship or naturalization applications by USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services).

In case you didn’t know, USCIS is the federal agency that oversees lawful immigration into the United States. This means if you’re looking to work, study, or immigrate to the US, you will need to make an immigration application and USCIS is the agency in the US handling these applications.

It is imperative that all your foreign language documents be translated into English for USCIS personnel to be able to read and understand the information contained within those documents. This is where you will most likely have to learn about USCIS certified translation.

Before we proceed further and provide you all the information you will ever need to know about USCIS certified translation requirements, let us pause for a quick moment.

If you are ready to move on with your USCIS certified translation and don't need to read any more about the topic - get your instant quote for a certified translation right here.

No-obligation, 100% free to get a translation quote and truly instant.

OK, now back to more information... Now that you have seen how simple MotaWord makes getting a certified translation quote, read on.

There is a lot of information to review and prepare when it comes to immigration and we know it’s not the most fun thing in life. That’s why we figured we can at least make your life a little better and easier by helping you understand all there is to know about certified translations for USCIS.

We want this article to be your one source to learn everything about certified translations for USCIS and help you save time on searching what you need to do and instead just get it done.

Expect to learn everything from who the USCIS is, to when you need certified translations, what are the best ways to get certified translations, and more. We will also be regularly updating this article to ensure that the information contained is current and accurate.

Here we go.

certified english translation uscis

Let’s start with the basics…

What is USCIS?

Since 1933, the immigration process to the US has been handled by INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service). INS handled the overseeing of the immigration applications, enforcement and border patrol activities for seventy years until Congress signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

The Homeland Security Act’s primary mission is to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States. As you might deduce from the date of effect, this was done right after the horrendous attacks on US soil on September 11, 2001. The focus of course was to reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism, and minimize damage and assist in recovery for terrorist attacks that occur in the United States. Immigration of course was an important factor to consider in this task and in March 2003, USCIS assumed the responsibility of the immigration service functions for the federal government. Basically, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the part of the federal government that has jurisdiction over citizenship and immigration issues, replacing INS as of March 2003.

Common documents for USCIS

Legal immigration to the United States happens for different reasons. There are cases where a foreign national might seek refuge in the US (asylum). There is family based immigration, investors willing to live in the US, US employers bringing in foreign workers and of course many special immigrant categories such as adoptions, religious workers, juveniles, etc.

All of these cases require specific supporting evidence that need to be provided as documents and depending on the case, these might be as simple as a birth certificate from the country of origin to “all published works” for a talent based application.

We often find ourselves translating newspaper articles talking about an applicant and their prowess in their field. We have even translated many articles for hairdressers, artists, models and actors.

Here’s a list of the documents usually translated for USCIS:

  • Foreign language diplomas (and sometimes US school diplomas issued in Latin)
  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Divorce decrees
  • Criminal Records
  • Published works
  • School transcripts, and
  • Deeds

What is a certified translation?

While many people won’t stray from being truthful and would not knowingly falsify information in their application, there are unfortunately those that do. USCIS, in considering an immigration application, reviews information provided from their sources for accuracy. For foreign language documents (such as a birth certificate issued in a foreign language speaking country or school diplomas issued by educational institutions providing education in a foreign language) USCIS workers need to read and understand the documents in English.

This is where an applicant will need the translation of these documents. As an additional measure of security and in order to ensure that there is a certain standard to receiving this information which will make it easily legible for a USCIS officer, a certified translation bearing an attestation is necessary.

In a nutshell, a certified translation is a formal statement in which a translator shows that they have accurately translated a foreign-language document into English.

Any foreign language document must be accompanied by a full English translation that the translator has certified as complete and correct, and by the translator's certification that they are competent to translate the foreign language into English.

It is imperative for a certified translation to be:

  • Complete: There should be no information missing from the translation, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. The translated copy needs to reflect, both in substance and format, the original language document.
  • Correct: The translation of the original language document needs to be done correctly and especially for legal documents and educational documents, the corresponding linguistic terminology needs to be used, which often requires an expert translator.
  • Proficient: The certified translation provided to USCIS is certified not only for the purpose of paper pushing but for the security that a proficient translator has completed the work and they can be held responsible for the work if need be. This is why many reputable translators and agencies put their contact information on the certification in order to be available should the need for clarification arise. For the sake of your application, these professionals should also be easily accessible for USCIS personnel or your immigration lawyer in case further clarification is needed for your translation.

Who can translate legal documents for USCIS?

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, 8 CFR 103.2(b)(3), “Any document containing foreign language submitted to USCIS shall be accompanied by a full English language translation which the translator has certified as complete and accurate, and by the translator's certification that he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English.”

We were once told by an immigration attorney who constantly visits the Federal Plaza (USCIS location in New York City) for cases that he was amazed to see so many certified translations with the MotaWord letterhead. It certainly helps to have a known brand be used in your application file in order to ensure the ease of application processing, which in itself may already be quite complicated.

But, to get back to the issue at hand, your certified translations need to be done by a professional translator or company who is knowledgeable in providing complete and accurate translations and who knows how to certify their work as per USCIS requirements.

Who needs certified translations?

Simply, anyone who is immigrating to the United States of America (USA) or applying for naturalization needs certified translations.

However, this is not the only time certified translations are needed.

People who are submitting their medical diplomas or transcripts to take the USMLE (US Medical Association Exam) administered by ECFMG (Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates) need to have the certified translations of their foreign language diplomas and transcripts.

Foreign students applying for US schools need to have the certified translation of their diplomas and transcripts.

Moreover, legal proceedings that involve foreign parties and discovery documents that are in a foreign language need certified translations. And of course, documents submitted to foreign authorities (consulates, etc.) need to have certified translations - this time from English into whatever the other language is - in order to be processed.

Which documents need a certified translation?

We touched upon this previously under the “Common documents for USCIS” section, but let’s elaborate a little further.

Any and all documents submitted to support an application or petition are required to also have an English translation. This translation must be accompanied by a certification from the translator that attests the translation is both complete, accurate and that the translator is competent. Examples include birth certificates, marriage certificates, college transcripts, and police records.

And it’s important to know what information the USCIS requires in a document. In some cases where the original document is lengthy, countries will issue an ‘extract’ version of the document. These ‘extract’ documents will be accepted only if they contain the required information and if they were produced by an authorized official. (the “keeper of record”)

A competent certified translation provider should be able to answer your questions easily. This is something we prioritize at MotaWord and thus we make ourselves available 24/7 through a “live chat” option where you can get in touch with an expert on our team within minutes.

What are USCIS Requirements for Certified Foreign Language Translations?

To recap all the information provided above; USCIS requires the certified, English translations of any supporting documentation in a foreign language.

This certified translation needs to be done by a translation provider certifying that “he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English”.

So the certified translation needs to be “complete, accurate and done by a proficient translator.

Now let’s look at your options for certified translations

Do all translators offer this service?

No, not all translation service provides offer this service. Be sure that this service is offered before you engage with any translation service provider. At MotaWord, this is one of our strong skills and in most cases, we will return your certified translation within hours of being submitted.

Interested in MotaWord’s USCIS certified translations service? Find out more here and start your translation job.

What should I look for in a USCIS certified translator?

Look for a translation provider certifying that “he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English”.

Can I translate my own document for USCIS?

Bilingual people often ask, and rightfully so, whether they can translate their own documents into English for submission to USCIS.

The answer is “no”. You cannot translate your own birth certificate or diploma into English and submit the translation to USCIS for your application.

Then who can?

A professional translator (someone who earns their living doing translations and has experience in providing translation service for documents to be submitted to USCIS) or a translation company that provides this service in multiple languages are your best bet.

Can I get my certified translation for free?

There are times when law firms, individual immigration lawyers or immigration support agencies will take on a pro bono case. Pro bono is short for the Latin phrase pro bono publico, which means "for the public good.” For cases where the applicant is an asylum seeker that has no means or is a juvenile, immigration professionals will work with translation companies to have free certified translation done or the translation work done on a deeply discounted basis.

But in general, as the translators devote time and effort to this work and translation company employees do so as well, free certified translation service for USCIS is very rare.

At MotaWord we work with certain law firms and do honor their request to have pro bono work done on certain cases, if our translators also are on board and can agree to provide free certified translation work.

uscis certified translation services

Let’s elaborate on USCIS requirements and application approvals

Official USCIS Translation Requirements

To avoid any delays in the processing of your immigration application you must comply with the USCIS translation requirements.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, 8 CFR 103.2(b)(3), “Any document containing foreign language submitted to USCIS shall be accompanied by a full English language translation which the translator has certified as complete and accurate, and by the translator's certification that he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English.”

What happens if your translated documents are rejected by USCIS?

USCIS is known to be very strict when it comes to the English translations of foreign language documents they receive. If such an issue exists, they will ask for a Request for Evidence (RFE). An RFE may be issued for these cases:

  • Translated document containing inaccuracies,
  • Translated document being (or appearing) unauthentic,
  • Lack of information on the translator
  • Translator not appearing to be an acceptable one, or
  • Certification done by the translator being unacceptable

An RFE, on top of delaying your application process - which is already lengthy enough - can result in denial if for any reason the response to the RFE is not received on time.

It is always better to stick with a service provider who knows what they are doing, who is responsible and reliable.

We tried to cover all questions that you might have as you search for answers for your USCIS translation needs. If we missed anything - don’t be shy. Contact us right away.

certified translation for USCIS

If you’ve read all the way through this post… you must now know how to approach a certified translation for your immigration process.

Let’s get that USCIS translation done so you can move on with your application.


Great! Thank you.