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Alien Files ("A-Files") at the National Archives at San Francisco

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) signed an agreement on June 3, 2009 to make the Alien Files (A-Files) a permanent series of records. A-Files will be transferred in five-year blocks to National Archives custody 100 years after the alien's year of birth.

Created by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) beginning in 1944, A-Files contain all records of any active case of an alien not yet naturalized as they passed through the United States immigration and inspection process. An A-File might also be created without any action taken by the alien; for example, if the INS initiated a law enforcement action against or involving the alien.

A rich source of biographical information, A-Files may include visas, photographs, affidavits, and correspondence leading up to an alien's naturalization, permanent residency, or deportation. Some A-Files contain records consolidated from the older immigration case file series currently open for public research at the National Archives in San Francisco.

Because of strong interest and advocacy for the A-Files by local research communities and their congressional representatives, the National Archives at San Francisco will maintain many A-Files controlled by INS district offices located in San Francisco, Honolulu, Reno, and Guam. Researchers seeking individuals who may have lived in these areas should check both the National Archives at San Francisco and Kansas City records for A-Files. A-Files from other district offices are centralized and available through the National Archives at Kansas City.

The National Archives' holdings of A-Files will grow as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) continues to transfer records.

Accessing Alien Files (A-Files) at the National Archives at San Francisco

A-Files may be viewed in person by visiting the National Archives at San Francisco by appointment. Copies of files may be ordered for a fee. Researchers should search the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) to find out if NARA currently has an A-File for a specific individual.

How to Identify Alien Files (A-Files)

Before contacting the National Archives at San Francisco, we ask that you search for the individual in our Online Catalog. The Online Catalog contains the name of every individual presently contained in A-Files holdings at National Archives facilities in San Francisco and Kansas City.

If you do not have access to a computer, members of our staff can aid you with your search.

If the name of the individual you are researching does not appear within the Online Catalog we ask that you refrain from submitting a record request as we will be unable to provide reference service.

See below: My ancestor was born before 1911, but I can't find his/her entry in the Online Catalog. Should I submit a record request?

How to Request Alien Files (A-Files) for On-Site Use

The National Archives at San Francisco strongly encourages researchers to make an appointment to view A-Files. Researchers should request A-Files well in advance of their visit so staff can prepare the records to be viewed upon arrival and registration.

In our research room, researchers may make copies of records using our self-service Scan-to-USB machine or photocopier. Researchers are also permitted to make digital images of the records using their own cameras and scanning equipment following NARA guidelines.

Submit your request to the National Archives at San Francisco using the contact information below. Our staff will respond to your request within ten business days to schedule an appointment for your visit.

How to Request Copies of Alien Files (A-Files)

Submit your copy request to the National Archives at San Francisco using the contact information below. Our staff will respond to your request within ten business days.

Before contacting the National Archives at San Francisco, we ask that you search for the individual in our Online Catalog. The Online Catalog contains the name of every individual presently contained in A-Files holdings at National Archives facilities in San Francisco and Kansas City.

If you do not have access to a computer, members of our staff can aid you with your search.

If the name of the individual you are researching does not appear within the Online Catalog we ask that you refrain from submitting a record request as we will be unable to provide reference service.

Requests must contain enough information to identify the record. Certain basic information from the individual Online Catalog entry is required to locate A-Files. This information includes:

  • The individual's complete name (with aliases or maiden names, if known)
  • National Archives Identifier
  • Alien Registration number
  • Accession Number
  • Box Number

To confirm that we have referenced the correct file, it is also helpful to provide other biographical information you may have (i.e., the individual's date and place of birth; date of entry into the United States; names of spouses and/or parents).

Please also verify that you are sending your request to the correct National Archives field office. The "Contact(s)" field in each ARC entry will state whether the file is located at the National Archives at Kansas City or the National Archives at San Francisco.

We receive requests by e-mail, postal mail, or fax only.

  • E-mail: AFiles.SanBruno@nara.gov

  • Postal mail:
    National Archives at San Francisco
    Attn: A-Files Request
    Leo J. Ryan Federal Building
    1000 Commodore Drive
    San Bruno, CA 94066

  • Fax: (650) 238-3510

Research and Reproduction Fees

Mail Order Services

Product/Service Fee
Minimum Reproductions Mail Order (up to 25 pages) $20.00
Paper to paper (up to and including 11 in. by 17 in.) made by NARA $0.80 per copy
Basic flatbed scan (up to 8" x 14")$10.00 per copy

On-Site Service

Self-service Product/Service Fee
Self-service paper to paper copy $0.25 per copy

Note: The National Archives at San Francisco accepts credit cards, checks, or money orders as payment for services rendered. Please do NOT transmit payment information via e-mail.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Alien Files (A-Files)

What is an A-File?

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began issuing aliens an Alien Registration number in 1940, and on April 1, 1944, began using this number to create individual case files, called Alien Files or A-Files.

A-Files contain all records of any active case of an alien not yet naturalized as they passed through the United States immigration and inspection process. An A-File might also be created without any action taken by the alien; for example, if the INS initiated a law enforcement action against or involving the alien.

In a few instances there are files on aliens who registered between 1940 and 1944. These files document aliens who received an Alien Registration number and form prior to 1944, and had an A-File created due to the re-opening of the case after 1944. Files from other series, such as visa files, were withdrawn and placed in the A-Files when cases were reopened in instances such as the filing of applications to replace a document, obtain a border crossing card, or petition for an immigrant relative.

If the individual that you seek does not have an A-File, a microfilmed copy of their Alien Registration Form ("Form AR-2") may still be available for research from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

What is the research value of A-Files?

A-Files are a rich source of biographical information in that they contain relatively modern immigration documents, all in one file. Since the early 20th century, the United States has collected increasing amounts of information from immigrants. A-Files may hold a wealth of data, including visas, photographs, applications, affidavits, correspondence, and more.

Although the files were created beginning in 1944, documents and information included may be much older than that, and could date back to the birth of the person. Documents may date up to the time of any "final action", such as deportation, permanent resident status, or citizenship.

Is the information included in A-Files unique from other genealogical resources?

Generally, yes. No other type of case file contains the same level of comprehensive personal data. In addition, the information contained in the files is largely unique, especially concerning the alien's interaction with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and his/her request for resident status and/or citizenship.

Some of the demographic information in an A-File is available in state/local vital records and naturalization or census records. However, A-Files may include information such as names and addresses of employers, photographs of an alien, and residences in non-census years and their country of origin. Also, some files include copies (in original language or translated) of foreign birth certificates and marriage licenses that may not be readily accessible in their country of issuance or are not known to be extant.

Which A-Files are presently available for research through the National Archives?

Only A-Files for individuals born in 1910 and before are available for research through the National Archives.

The National Archives at San Francisco maintains many A-Files controlled by INS district offices located in San Francisco, Honolulu, Reno, and Guam. Researchers seeking individuals who may have lived in these areas should check both the National Archives at San Francisco and Kansas City records for A-Files. A-Files from other district offices are centralized and available through the National Archives at Kansas City.

What A-File information can I expect to find in the Online Catalog?

Each A-File the National Archives maintains is described within the Online Catalog at the individual file level. A-File entries in the online catalog may contain:

  • Alien Registration number
  • Last Name
  • First Name
  • Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Sex
  • Date of Entry
  • Country of Birth
  • Father's Name
  • Mother's Name
  • Naturalization Date
  • Naturalization Court
  • Naturalization Location

How may I view an A-File?

Researchers may view the A-File in person in our facility's research room or they may order a photocopy of the file.

My ancestor was born before 1911, but I can't find his/her entry in the Online Catalog. Should I submit a record request?

The National Archives can only fulfill record requests that include a valid Alien Registration number and are listed in the Online Catalog. If you cannot find your individual in the online catalog, it is because the National Archives does not currently maintain the record you are seeking.

To continue your search contact United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through their Genealogy Program (http://www.uscis.gov/genealogy). USCIS maintains all active and inactive A-Files that have not yet been transferred into the holdings of the National Archives. As the National Archives will continue to accession new A-Files, researchers should check the Online Catalog and the A-Files webpage for updates on a periodic basis.

What information do I need to make a record request?

To make a record request you must provide: the individual's complete name, Online Catalog number (National Archives Identifier) , and Alien Registration number. To confirm that we have referenced the correct file, it is also helpful to provide the individual's date and place of birth and date of entry into the United States. To determine the proper National Archives Identifier and Alien Registration number you can complete a search through the Online Catalog. If you do not have access to a computer, members of our staff can aid in this process.

Tips for Searching for an Individual's Name in the Online Catalog

  • Search on the person's full name in first name-last name order.
  • Search on the surname only. The records might only include a first initial or a variant spelling of the first name.
  • Search on variant spellings of the surname, for example: Luchetti or Lucetti.
  • Search on variant spellings of the first name, for example: Joseph Maggio or Guiseppe Maggio.

May I request any A-File if it is available in the Online Catalog?

Anyone may request any A-File that is currently listed in the Online Catalog. A-Files may include personal information about other persons who could still be living, such as immigrant's children. NARA cannot release third party personal information found on documents that are restricted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions, so some records received from the National Archives may have some information redacted.

See more information about the Freedom of Information Act.

I'm not sure if my ancestor has an A-File. Are there other immigration case files available at the National Archives?

Yes, there are other types of immigration case files available through the National Archives and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program. National Archives Reference Information Paper 99 ("Chinese Immigration and Chinese in the United States") is a guide to Chinese Exclusion Act-era case files maintained by National Archives facilities nationwide.

The National Archives at San Francisco also has significant holdings of individual case files created by the San Francisco and Honolulu District Offices of the INS that pre-date the A-Files. These case files date from 1884-1954. For more information about searching these records, contact National Archives staff at sanbruno.archives@nara.gov or see our handout "How to Inquire About Immigration Case Files From Home".

The USCIS Genealogy Program makes available historic immigration and naturalization records such as Certificate Files, Visa Files, Registry Files, and more. Visit http://www.uscis.gov/genealogy/ for more information.

Other Resources

Documenting Immigrants: An Examination of Immigration and Naturalization Service
Case Files by Paul Wormser. Paper for CIDS Program, 1995.

Alien Files (A-Files) at the National Archives at Kansas City

For tips on searching in the Online Catalog:

For information on A-Files not maintained by the National Archives:

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