National Archives Releases Immigrant “A-Files” Records

The National Archives at San Francisco recently opened to the public over 40,000 case files on immigrants to the United States, and dedicated its research room to the late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos who was a leading force in having these files re-designated as records of permanent historical value.

These immigration files, known as “Alien Files” (commonly referred to as “A-Files”), were transferred from U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They are among the first of millions of case files that will eventually be opened to the public.

In 1940 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the predecessor of USCIS, started issuing Alien Registration Numbers to resident aliens in the United States. On April 1, 1944, INS began to assign these numbers to a new series of immigration case files called A-Files. A-Files are a genealogical wealth of information, containing documents such as photographs, personal correspondence, vital records, interview transcripts, and visa applications.

A-Files are eligible for transfer to the National Archives 100 years after the birth of the subject of a file. These transfers to the National Archives ensure that these records will be saved in perpetuity and made available to the public for research.

The holdings of the National Archives at San Francisco will include many case files created at USCIS District Offices in San Francisco, California; Honolulu, Hawaii; Reno, Nevada; and Agana, Guam, American Samoa and the American Territories. The National Archives at Kansas City will maintain A-Files for

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all other INS District Offices nationwide.

A-Files may be viewed in person by appointment or copies may be ordered for a fee. Researchers may contact National Archives staff at to search A-Files holdings for a particular file. An online database is available through the National Archives at San Francisco website.