Immigration Requirement Quirks

A friend told me of how Vietnamese people used to come to her bank where she was a teller and ask the bank to certify translations that they had completed themselves. They were doing this to fulfill immigration requirements, typically for family members they were assisting overseas. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires all documents to be submitted in English. If translation is required, then it must be certified by a professional translator.

Note: A translation is certified through a “Certificate of Accuracy”, which is signed by a translator and then notarized.

The bank was unable to do this, and my friend always felt bad because it was clear the families had been desperately searching for options to bypass professional translation costs. Because of the level of formatting that these small legal documents take, the costs of translation of immigration documents tend to be more than expected. Sometimes, individuals will try to bypass professional translation services by translating the documents themselves and getting banks with a notary public to “certify” the translation. Except that’s not what banks can do: they can notarize the signature of the translator, not the document itself.

The Vietnamese may not have had any luck at the bank, but they were only a step away from having a certified translation. This raises the concern that standards are easy to bypass and it hard to ensure consistency across the U.S. (Write us your thoughts about this in the comments section.).

In fact, USCIS requirements for translated documents has several inconsistencies, another of which is the translation of proper names. Often times, you will have several immigration documents that must be translated, and you are unlikely to get them all translated at once. With no experience, your name may be spelled differently across the translations, especially so if you are not using the same vendor for every translation. If your name doesn’t match the first document you submitted with USCIS, all subsequent translations are likely to be denied.

You can prevent this issue by developing a little knowledge about translation, and therefore advising your translation agency how you would like your name to appear in the target language. Technically, you can’t tell a translator how to translate an official document, but you can provide them with documentation informing them how its been done in the past.

There are variations of accepted rules across the translation industry regarding proper names, including the four options below:

  • Proper names can be copied or reproduced exactly as they are in the source text;
  • Proper names can be transcribed or transliterated or adapted on the level of spelling, phonology, etc;
  • Proper names can be substituted; and
  • Proper names can be translated.

The two big ones are transcription and translation.

Translation is when you change a name to meet the target language’s version, such as “Лидия” to “Lydia”; versus transcription, which is matching the source letters to the target letters phonetically, such as “Лидия” to “Lidiya”. Often times the name sounds the same, but you will be stuck with unconventional spelling in your target language. Or worse, if you decide to go with the translation method for your name, your name might mean something you’d rather it not. While living in Ukraine, I was unlucky in both ways, as “Kerchmar” transcribed to “Кэрчмарь” or translated to “Кошмар”, both of which sound or mean the word “nightmare” in Russian. Deciding which method to use in advance can help you get your preferred spelling and prevent issues with the USCIS.

Twitter logo to tweet translation access quote

 Tweet: Avoid USCIS issues by choosing how your consistently name appears: Translation, “Лидия” to “Lydia” Vs. Transcription, “Лидия” to “Lidiya”.



If you’ve ever been through or assisted with the USCIS immigration process, let us know the quirks you’ve uncovered. You can also learn more more about our USCIS translation services.

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