Will US Citizenship and Immigration Services Drop Required ‘Certified’ Translations?

US Citizenship and Immigration Services

Certified translations may be on their way out of US Citizenship and Immigration Services — in certain cases. 

That is what Congressman Robert Garcia and 13 other Members of Congress would like to see, according to a February 16, 2024 letter to USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou. 

The first step would be reevaluating the current internal policy, which Garcia and his fellow signatories say has created a cumbersome, time-consuming system. 

As NBC News reported, congressional staff often assist residents in the process of becoming US citizens, primarily with such tasks as inquiries about status updates and requesting expedited processing for certain documentation. 

The vast majority of immigrants to the US with limited English proficiency (LEP) speak only Spanish, so the congressional staff ensures access to existing Spanish translations of official forms. 

“Unfortunately, USCIS congressional casework policy makes this more difficult by requiring a full English translation for any document submitted to USCIS along with their translator’s competency certification,” Garcia’s letter states. 

Congressional staff reportedly now spend “hours” translating constituents’ answers from those Spanish-language documents into English before the responses can be submitted to USCIS. Garcia and the other signatories want USCIS to free up congressional staffers’ time by instead having USCIS staff translate documents into English.

Notably, Garcia’s letter addresses the translation qualifications of neither the congressional staffers nor USCIS staff. Nor does it offer further details on the “competency certification” the translator must possess, which must be specified since translator certification is not uniform across the US. 

The letter seems to imply that this request, for USCIS staff to translate constituents’ responses into English, would apply only to Spanish. 

It is unclear how translations for languages other than Spanish are currently handled, whether by in-house congressional staff or language services providers, and, if the latter, whether outsourcing Spanish translations would be an option. If so, the next question will inevitably be: Who will pay for the outsourced translations?

As of writing, Garcia has not provided any updates on USCIS’ response to the letter.