During the processing of U.S. immigration documents, such as for a green card or other purposes, original or certified copies of several documents (birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.) are required.
Many people are not sure what exactly a “certified copy” means.
A certified copy does NOT mean a plain photocopy, notarized photocopy, true copy of the certificate, embassy-prepared copy, or anything like that. Copies certified by attorneys, a Justice of the Peace, a Notary Public, etc., are not acceptable.
For all practical purposes in most places, it actually means what people consider to be an “original” certificate.
How can the original be considered a certified copy? If that is really the case, what is the difference?
Original vs Certified Copy
In most places, the actual record of the event (birth, marriage, death, etc.) is recorded in the register of the government office. It can be a paper register, a computerized record, or similar records.
For example, say the person was born in the city of Ahmedabad, and the birth was registered with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). The actual record of the birth is in the register of the AMC, formerly as a paper record, now as a digital one. Therefore, when you ask AMC for the birth certificate, they actually give you a certificate that indicates, ‘This is to certify that the following information has been taken from the original record of Birth at the Ahmedabad City of Gujarat State”. That certificate is called a “Certified Copy”, as indicated by the black-colored arrow in the sample birth certificate below. That is what most people call an “original” birth certificate, but in reality, you are never issued the original birth certificate—only a certified copy.
You may have the original document only in cases where such events are not routinely recorded in places like at a municipality. E.g., if you made an affidavit, that is an original affidavit. If two parties sign a contract between them, that contract is an original document.
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Getting a Certified Copy
Most people have only one birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc. You never send the “original” certificate to the USCIS, only the plain photocopies, and there it is not an issue. However, for example, you do have to send the “original” certificate to the NVC for immigrant visa purposes. Many people are not comfortable sending the only “original” certificate that they have in case it gets lost. Sometimes, several petitions for several siblings of a U.S. citizen are getting processed simultaneously or around the same time, and each petition requires the “original” certificate, while the person has only one “original” certificate.
In such cases, you can either send the only “original” you have (if required only at one place at a time) or get more “certified copies” from the place that initially issued the certificate. In other words, you will have to get extra “copies” of the “original” from the issuing authority, meaning that you will have to get multiple “originals”.
In the sample birth certificate below, you can see that each certificate costs Rs. 25. Therefore, if you need to get five of them (for example, for five siblings’ petitions), it is no big deal in terms of money.
Sometimes, it is easy for you to get such a certificate by approaching the original issuing authority. Of course, if there is someone who can approach them on your behalf in the place you were born, it will be much easier. However, in many instances, it may be quite difficult to contact or deal with them. In any case, there is no other option than to get them in this way.
No other types of copies will do.