Frequently Asked Questions about Change of Address Reporting
Q1. What exactly is the rule about address reporting?
A1. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 265(a) reads:
"Each alien required to be registered under this title who is within the United States shall notify the Attorney General in writing of each change of address and new address within ten days from the date of such change and furnish with such notice such additional information as the Attorney General may require by regulation."
If you are a foreign national physically present within the U.S. then you are required to be registered (e.g., to have an I-94 card or similar document confirming status), and you are required to make address reports as specified in the law.
Q2. Who is an alien and why does USCIS use that term?
A2. "Alien" is a legal term. Per the definition at INA Section 101(a), "The term ’alien’ means any person not a citizen or national of the United States."
That definition is very clear. You acquire U.S. citizenship by being born in the U.S. or to U.S. parents or by naturalizing. You become a national of the U.S. by being born in one or the outlying possessions of the United States (American Samoa or Swains Island) or to parents who are nationals of the U.S. If you have a nonimmigrant or LPR (legal permanent resident or "green card") status or any other immigration document allowing you to be in the U.S., then you are considered to be an "alien" under the legal definition.
Q3. I know that I have filled in my address on lots of forms, but why haven’t I heard about this direct reporting requirement before?
A3. This law has been "on the books" for a very long time, but over the years USCIS has placed a low priority on enforcing the law and collecting and recording address changes. USCIS has generally not had the manpower or resources to record address changes even if they were reported. In practice, USCIS has been interested primarily in addresses directly connected with a benefit or approval notice that USCIS would have to mail back to the foreign national.
Q4. If USCIS has not been maintaining its address files and has not been enforcing the law, then why should I start reporting my address now?
A4. The law is the law, and even though USCIS may not have enforced it in the past, Congress and law enforcement agencies are now very interested in foreign nationals in the U.S. It is a good thing to know your responsibilities and comply with the law.
Q5. How do I report my address? Where do I send it?
A5. There are two ways you can report your address to USCIS. One option is to go to the USCIS online change of address web site at egov.immigration.gov/crisgwi/go?action=coa and then follow the directions posted on the site. The other option is to complete and mail Form AR-11 to the USCIS address indicated on the form. USCIS posts this form on its website at www.uscis.gov. It loads as a form-fillable Adobe pdf file, so you may fill it out online, then print and sign it before mailing it to USCIS.
Q6. I do not like the idea of reporting my address to USCIS. What happens if I just refuse to do so?
A6. INA Section 266(b) states, "Any alien or any parent or legal guardian in the United States of any alien who fails to given written notice to the Attorney General, as required by section 265 of this title, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall, upon conviction thereof, be fined not to exceed $200 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both. Irrespective of whether an alien is convicted and punished as herein provide, any alien who fails to given written notice to the Attorney General, as required by section 265, shall be taken into custody and removed in the manner provided by chapter 4 of this title, unless such alien establishes to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that such failure was reasonably excusable or was not willful."
If you make a choice or decision not to report, a willful act, then USCIS has the authority to charge you with a crime, fine you $200, imprison you for 30 days, and then deport you. Up until recently USCIS has not used this violation alone to deport someone, but USCIS can add this to a list of violations such as overstay or unauthorized work, when they are building a case for deportation.
Q7. I have no idea whether the USCIS or other offices know my current address. I entered the US on a J-1 visa in February, found an apartment in March but never gave that address to anyone. Should I have done that? And what address would these offices now have of me?
A7. When you filled out your multi-part admission form (long white card) at the port of entry to the U.S., in the Arrival Record section of the admission form you were supposed to fill in an address while in the United States. This part was kept by USCIS for their records. One section of the form, the Form I-94 Departure Record card, was stapled into your passport.
You should send in the AR-11 now that you have a U.S. residence address. It’s not likely that anything will happen if you changed your address months ago and didn’t notify the USCIS until now. The USCIS, through the office of the Attorney General, has the authority to forgive such failures provided the failure to report "was reasonably excusable or was not willful." That means you need to report properly and promptly, but USCIS will generally not take an action against you just because you missed a deadline or didn’t know you needed to report, provided that you act in good faith and send the report once you know you have to report or realize you have missed a deadline.
Q8. To be able to fill in the Form AR-11 I need to know the number of my Alien Card. Will you please advise me what is this number?
A8. That question is for Permanent Residents. If you are a nonimmigrant, you don’t have an alien number. Write "None".
Q9. I may be moving around a lot. My P.O. box number is the most accurate address to reach me. Why does USCIS want to know every time I move?
A9. Members of Congress and USCIS and other government agencies have indicated to schools that they want to know where foreign nationals live, including students and scholars, so they can find them if necessary. A P.O. box does not indicate where you live, so it is not an acceptable address for this form.
Q10. I am just a student or scholar. I study, do research, or teach. I am not doing anything wrong. Why would USCIS or any other law enforcement agent want to find me?
A10. There could be many reasons. The most common reasons have to do with events, such as the recent terrorist acts, that cause the government to launch investigations.
Q11. I am feeling a little angry and uncomfortable about this. What has UH done or is UH doing about this address reporting and the general treatment of international students and scholars?
A11. UH, along with many other colleges and universities, is doing all that it can to protect students’ and scholars’ rights in these tense times with a very active Congress working to change the immigration laws. UH FSIS monitors proposed legislation and works with the Assistant Vice Chancellor for International and Exchange Programs, the International Student Services office, and other UH offices to recommend changes in legislative and regulatory language and promote and support international education.
Q12. But don’t I have Constitutional rights? What about my civil liberties?
A12. Everyone in the U.S. and under its jurisdiction has certain rights, but foreign nationals do not have all of the same rights as citizens. An excellent discussion of the Constitutional rights of international students and scholars is available at Duke University’s web site at http://www.visaservices.duke.edu/ConstitutionalRights.html.