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I am a US citizen who has lived outside the US for many years and I am trying to obtain a green card for my wife, via form I-130 and the IR-1 visa. We have documents such as apartment contracts, bank and utility statements, etc. showing a "bona fide" relationship but almost none are in English.

I know that the USCIS do not require notarized translations or originals, but do they require the translation of the entire document? For example, an apartment lease is very long, and even the first page has hundreds of technical words that are irrelevant to the main claim that we leased an apartment together. Would a marked-up copy showing our names in English be enough, even if it left the rest in the native language? Similarly for utilities, do I really need to translate the cost per kWH and tips for saving electricity that are written on my electrical bill?

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Unfortunately, USCIS asks for a "full" translation. Yes, it makes logical sense to me too that for some documents, they wouldn't really need the whole thing. But I can find no mention of them acknowledging this. On the contrary, they say you should translate in full all documents you send them, not just certain ones. The USCIS help center says,

Any document containing foreign language submitted to USCIS must be accompanied by a full English language translation which the translator has certified as complete and accurate, and by the translator's certification that he or she is competent to translate from the foreign language into English.

(Their wording here comes straight from the law books, 8 CFR 103.2(b)(3). The Adjudicator's Field Manual similarly says "All documents submitted in support of an application or petition must include complete translation into English.")

Whenever you have alternative foreign-language documents showing the same thing, you might consider choosing the shorter ones. That's what I was able to do when I worked on this process. For example, I asked the bank for a letter confirming the joint ownership of an account, which turned out to be shorter and easier to translate than a full statement. (That's not why I had asked for the letter, but I was glad it turned out that way!)

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  • What about taking the first page of a rental contract as a document? – mmdanziger Jan 22 '17 at 6:22
  • @mmdanziger good question! The "note" in the Field Manual section I linked seems like it might be saying no ("only extracts prepared by an authorized official (the “keeper of record”) are acceptable. A summary of a document prepared by a translator is unacceptable."), but I can't say for certain if what they say there applies to the bona fide relationship evidence in the same way as it would for more necessary documents. – Dan Getz Jan 22 '17 at 6:56
  • @mmdanziger after skimming through related parts of that manual and the I-130 instructions, I can't find anything else that mentions partial documents aside from that note that talks about "extracts". It'd be nice to interpret "documentation" in the I-130 instructions to include partial documents, but I wouldn't count on it. So my best guess is no. – Dan Getz Jan 22 '17 at 7:25
  • The confusing thing is that officially only one category of evidence is required. But from what I've read people submit large dossiers with everything but the kitchen sink (even though a shared kitchen sink would be great evidence of a bona fide marriage 😉). The key documents like the marriage certificate obviously require full translations but for stuff that's essentially optional in any event--and that's much harder to translate--it just seems like such a waste... – mmdanziger Jan 22 '17 at 7:43
  • Also the way the discussion of extracts is phrased, it's clearly talking about official documents that may have an official abbreviated version. Hard to say what the rules would be for unofficial evidence documents, if a fragment is sufficient to attest to the key claim of bona-fide-ness. – mmdanziger Jan 22 '17 at 7:48

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