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Department of State Visa Records

Except for a brief time during the American Civil War (1861-1865), alien visitors did not require visaed passports in order to enter the United States. The practice of requiring all aliens to obtain visas from U.S. officials abroad before departure for the United States began in 1917 as a war measure during World War I. That procedure was continued under an act of May 22, 1918, amended in 1921. U.S. consuls were directed to refuse visas to aliens whose entrance might threaten the public safety and were required to warn applicants for visas who were liable to be legally excluded from the United States upon their arrival at ports of entry. Under the Immigration Act of 1924, which continued the quota system for immigrants to the United States established in 1921, consuls were responsible for denying visas to applicants inadmissible under that system. Visa activities in the Department of State have been handled by an organization responsible for that function since 1918. That organization and its procedures have gone through many changes over the years.

Certain file categories in the Department of State central files were assigned for use by the visa organization and the records were kept separate from the main series of the Department's central files. Recordkeeping for files relating to visa matters now in the National Archives falls into three main periods of time:


●1910 through 1949

A. Central Decimal File category "150" (with sub-divisions) dealt with "Immigration to the United States" and file category "151" (with subdivisions) covered "Immigration of Chinese to the United States."

B. Records relating to “Regulations governing residence, trade, and travel" to the United States were filed in file category "811.111" and records relating to individuals were filed under "811.111 [name]."


●1950 to 1962

Central Decimal File categories "150" through "165" dealt with broad subject of "Entry of aliens into, residence of aliens in, the United States" and records relating to individuals were filed under "150 [name]."


●Beginning in 1963

The Department began using an alpha-numeric filing scheme for its central files. Under the new filing system, records relating to "Visas" were filed in the file category “V.” There were sub-divisions, such as "V-1" for "General policy. Plans. Coordination" and "V-12" for "Entry."

♦Refer to the filing manuals for each time period for more detail on the organization of the records described above.


While all records on visa and immigration matters were supposed to be filed in the files maintained by the office responsible for visa matters, a very small amount of documentation is found among the main series of the Department of State central files for the 1910-1963 period.


  • Lists of Papers ("Purport Lists") Regarding Immigration, 1910-1939. RG 59 Entry A1-701 (NAID 1253483). Boxes 1-15. Lists of Lists of documents for RG 59 Entry A1- 702 (NAID 1253485).
  • Lists of Papers ("Purport Lists") in the General Visa Correspondence, 1914- 1940. RG 59 Entry A1-703 (NAID 1253484). Boxes 1-22. Lists of documents from the period 1914-1940 found in RG 59 Entry A1-704 (NAID 1253490).
  • Lists of Papers ("Purport Lists") of Procedural Correspondence Concerning Visas, 1914-1931. RG 59 Entry A1-706 (NAID 1253493). Boxes 1-5. Box 1: Dec 1914-Sept 1918; Box 2: Sept 1918-July 1919; Box 3: July 19191-October 1920; Box 4: October 1920-May 1924; Box 5: May 1924-October 1930. Lists of documents for RG 59 Entry A1-707 (NAID 1253494).


Contact the National Archives at College Park, MD ( for more information.


Visa Case Files, 1914-1940. File category "811.111 [Name]" arranged in the following three chronological segments: 1914-1923 Boxes 1-445; 1924-1932 Boxes 446-906; and 1933-1940 Boxes 907-1736. Entry A1-705 (NAID 1253492). This is the only period for which case files on individuals exist. Furthermore, in the 1914-23 and 1924-32 blocks, only precedent cases, files containing policy documentation, and cases on significant individuals are preserved. See Section V: Records of Other Agencies, for information about alternative sources of documentation on individuals.


Contact the National Archives at College Park, MD ( for additional information.


The bulk of the preserved visa-related records consist of policy and procedural documentation arranged according to the file numbers assigned during the period of time each filing system described above was used.

File No. Dates Boxes Entry No.
150 - 151.997 1910-1939 1-291 A1-702A (NAID 1253485)
150.1- 150.9469 [Confidential File] 1910-1939 292-294 A1-702A (NAID 1253485)
150.01 [Name] - 150.946 [Name] 1914-1924 1-3 A1-710 (NAID 1253496)
150 Barred Zones-151.997 1940-1945 1-103 A1-702B (NAID 1253485)
150-151.10 Students 1945-1949 1-46 A1-702C (NAID 1253485)
811.111 1914-1931 1-106 A1-707 (NAID 1253494)
811.111 Visas Granted 1914-1924 1-6 A1-709 (NAID 1253495)
811.111 Visas Refused 1914-1924 1-3 A1-710 (NAID 1253496)
800.111 - 811B.55 1914-1940 1-246 A1-704A (NAID 1253490)
811.111 - 811.11181 [Confidential File] 1914-1940 247 A1-704A (NAID 1253490)
811.111 - 811G.111 1940-1945 1-236 A1-704A (NAID 1253490)
811.111 - 811G.5544K 1945-1949 1-154 A1-704A (NAID 1253490)
150s and 160s 1950-1954   Erroneously Destroyed
150 - 165.98 1955-1959 502-572 A1-702D*
150 - 165.98 1960-1962 1-51 A1-702E*
V - V 31 1963-1964 1-47 A1-704B*
V - V 31 1965-1970 48-152 A1-704B*

*These records are not available for researcher use at the present time.


Contact the National Archives at College Park, MD ( for additional information.

Among other visa-related records are:

Lists of Visas Refused and Granted at Foreign Service Posts in Europe, 1917- 1919. RG 59 Entry A1-708. 1 box. Lists from the consulate general in Paris, the legation in the Netherlands, the embassy in Spain, and the legation in Switzerland.

Petitions of the Jewish Peoples' Committee, 1938. RG 59 Entry A1-712 (NAID 1253497). 1 box. A sampling of petitions urging passage of House Joint Resolution 637 providing for the admission of refugees into the United States.

Visa Agent Designation Forms, 1941-1945. RG 59 Entry A1-3005 (NAID 2529140). 3 boxes.

More information on most of the records described above, as well as others, is in Inventory 15: Inventory of the General Records of the Department of State, RG 59.


Contact the National Archives at College Park, MD ( for more information.

Immigrant visas, both quota and nonquota (and supporting documentation), issued by the Department of State to aliens at U.S. embassies, legations, and consulates overseas are surrendered to U.S. immigration officials upon admission to the United States. The immigrant visas and associated documentation accumulated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) between July 1, 1924, and March 31, 1944, were maintained by the central office in Washington, DC in the Visa Files. Beginning April 1, 1944, the Visa Files series was closed and all new immigrant visas were filed in Alien Files ("A-Files"). An immigrant’s Visa File may have been removed from the Visa Files series and placed inside a consolidated A-File or Certificate File ("C-File") if his or her case re-opened after April 1, 1944. Visa Files and C-Files are preserved, but remain in the custody of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program []. A-Files have begun to transfer to NARA for permanent retention. For more information on A-Files at NARA, visit



See also: Department of State Visa Records Reference Report.