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How do I get an INS Photo?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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An INS photo is a portrait photograph required for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). INS is the short form of the previous name of this agency, which used to be called the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This agency is responsible for managing all requests for citizenship or work permits for the United States. Photographic identification is required on the application and is attached to both the temporary and permanent citizenship identification documentation.

There are four main requirements for an INS photo: size, paper stock, tone, and authentication. All these exact requirements must be met for the photo to be accepted. In order to be accepted as an INS photo, the image must be two inches by two inches (5.1 cm by 5.1 cm) and in color. The photo paper must be thin and the print must be clear. No retouching or enhancing of the photo is allowed and the back of the photo must bear the identification of the photographer.

In order to get an INS photo you must meet with a professional photographer, obtain two copies, check the images for compliance and submit on the required forms. The requirements for the photo are based on a need for consistent image format for the INS database. By using the same format and layout, software programs can be created to compare images across other photo identification systems. Facial recognition technology is growing, but will always provide the most accurate result if the photos meet a specific layout.

The photographer is required to create an image with the full face, open eyes and front view of the person's face. The photo must show the full head, from the top of the hair to the bottom of the chin. The image must be centered and the eye height is between 1 1/8 and 1 ¾ inches (2.8 cm to 3.5 cm) from the bottom of the picture. The background must be white or off white.

In an INS photo, the subject must be wearing regular clothes. Hats and dark glasses are not permitted. In addition, the person should have a simple facial expression, so that they are easily recognizable. Eyeglasses are allowed, as long as the lenses do not hide the subject’s eyes.

Make sure that the photographer signs the back of both photographs. The signature must include the company name and full addresses. Be sure to submit the forms in a timely manner, as the photographs are only valid for six months.

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Link to Sources

Discussion Comments

By Telsyst — On Dec 14, 2013
Perhaps photographers who are experienced in taking photos for passports and other official documents would be the best to use for an INS photo.

The yellow pages or the uscis home page are probably good places to start your search for a qualified photographer.

By Certlerant — On Dec 13, 2013

Can all professional photographers be expected to know the strict requirements for these pictures, or should the applicant be prepared to provide the specifications? With such specific dimension requirements, like eye height in the photo, etc., it seems like it would be easy for the untrained applicant to make errors.

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