BECOMING Legal: A Guide to the New Immigration Law : Step-by-Step

The process of applying for legalization will be time consuming and, for some, confusing. What follows is a step-by-step guide to the key phases you will have to go through.

An illegal alien can proceed in several ways to file his or her application for amnesty. You may:

Prepare and file your own application directly with the government, along with pertinent documents;

Go to a religious or private community agency;


Go to a lawyer.

Doing It on Your Own

The applicant can either:

Send your application by mail to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service-Legalization, P.O. Box 4000, Bell, CA 90201-0004, if you live in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo counties;


Or turn in your application in person to any of the INS legalization centers, which are listed elsewhere in this guide. The application must be delivered in a sealed envelope with your return address an ZIP code.

If You Go to a Community Agency or to a Lawyer, they will help you fill out the application and to arrange for the necessary documents to support your case. However, you will have to sign the application before it can be sent to the government.


Together with the four-page application (Form I-687) form, you must enclose supporting documents. The INS will accept certified copies of the written evidence under the condition that the originals will be presented during a later interview.



The fees must be enclosed with the application and must be made by cashier’s check or money orders payable to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Personal checks and cash will not be accepted.

The INS Will Respond by Mail

The INS will acknowledge the application by return mail. Officials hope to respond within two to three weeks. They will send you:


A receipt for the fee;

The date, time and location of an interview with an INS examiner; officials will try to schedule these at the center nearest your home.

A temporary work permit that will expire on the day of the interview.

The Interview


The applicant must:

Appear at the assigned legalization center at the indicated day and time;

Bring the original documents that may help to support your case;

Bring a certificate (Form I-693) that you have received a medical exam by one of the approved doctors, who are listed elsewhere in this guide.


After the Interview

If the immigration official decides that the applicant has a good chance to qualify for legalization, the work permit will be extended.

The INS will verify the legitimacy of the documents you presented.

The INS will send the fingerprints to the FBI in order to verify whether you have a criminal record that could disqualify you.


The Government’s Answer

Two or three months after you turn in the application, according to the estimates of officials, you will receive a formal response by mail.

If the response is positive, you will be notified where and when to pick up Form I-688, a temporary residency card that will allow you to work legally and leave the country for limited time periods.

If the response is negative, you will be able to appeal the decision by filling out Form I-694. You must do so within 30 days of receipt of the notice. The appeal has to be addressed to the Associate Commissioner, Examinations (Administrative Appeals Unit). There will be an additional fee for such an appeal.