What's the difference between an AR-2 and A-File?

The AR-2 and A-Files are two types of records that emerged as a result of the Alien Act of 1940, requiring alien registration. Alien (non-citzen) registration has been required at various periods our nation's history since 1798, typically in times of war or impending war. Registrations also occurred in the twentieth century, the Registry Act of 1929, the Enemy Alien registration during WWI and the Alien registrations during WWII. These more recent alien registration records provide rich genealogical detail of great benefit to those researching immigrant ancestors in the twentieth century, at a time when modern records are scarce.

Amid the threat of war before WWII, the Alien Act of 1940 required non-citizen aliens living in the U.S. to register with the local post office, and immigrants over the age of 14 just arriving, completed a two-page form and were fingerprinted, their alien registration number then forwarded to immigration services. A receipt form was later mailed to the alien, confirming his or her registration: in effect, the first "green card" (although the color was white.

Confusing to some researchers is making the distinction between the two types of records generated: the AR-2 Form and A-File. The difference is described as follows, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) website:

- AR-2 - Alien Registration Forms apply to those registering between 1 August 1940 to 31 March 1944

AR-2 files were microfilmed and the originals destroyed; however, the USCIS maintains this microfilm containing nearly 6 million Alien Registration Forms (AR-2). The microfilmed forms are technically not part of the A-File series. Immigrants who registered between 1940 and 1944 will have an A-number below 8 million (A8000000) and an Alien Registration Form on microfilm, but unless their case re-opened after 1944 they will have no A-file. Cases were reopened for those seeking naturalization, for example. The information contained is a snapshot in time of these immigrants, in terms of personal detail.

- A-Files - Alien Registration Files apply to those registering between 1 April 1944 to 1 May 1951.

A-Files contained all records of any active case of an immigrant not yet naturalized. Upon naturalization all records were moved to a consolidated C-File and the A-File ceased to exist. The value of these files is the modern-day documents they contain, including visas, photographs, applications, affidavits, correspondence, and more.

Of the more than 60 million case files collected, those numbered below 8 million are said to be the "oldest fraction" of A-Files on record. Access to both the AR-2 Form and A-File records is available through the USCIS Genealogy Program, for a moderately-priced fee.

Only A-Files numbered below 8 million may be requested via a Genealogy Record Request. A-Files numbered 8 million and above must be requested via the USCIS Freedom of Information and Privacy Act Program.

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