An increasingly large number of alumni have been requesting me to sign a letter supporting their applications for a green card or other U.S. residency status. Because such letters must be based on personal knowledge, there are significant restrictions on what I can say. Additionally, it seems every lawyer requests me to use a different template for such letters, which has become an unsustainable drain on time for me. Therefore I am adopting a consistent process as outlined below:
Please read and conform to the following, if you want such a letter from me. I am able to serve as the verification for only a very limited scope of information: topics covered in a particular class that I taught in which you demonstrated proficiency in via tests, homeworks, projects, and so on (or in a research project, if that is relevant in your case). If you need to document skills from multiple classes, you might need multiple such letters from different instructors. I cannot verify your years of enrollment, classes completed successfully, or graduation; you can use your official transcript to confirm such facts. I cannot attest to skills if I was your faculty advisor because I do not have first hand knowlege of your performance in the course (unless it was a course for which I was the instructor.) Some lawyers might insist that you need letters beyond this scope from me, but in my experience this is actually more of an optimization to make things easier for the lawyer and not an actual US Government requirement.
Please do not send a letter drafted by your lawyer. Instead, confirm with your lawyer that the following will satisfy the need, when the XXXs are filled in appropriately and it is put on my CMU letterhead with my signature:
To whom it may concern: This letter is to verify that XXX-name acquired and demonstrated knowledge and experience at Carnegie Mellon University in the areas of (1) XXX-area1, (2) XXX-area2, (3) XXX-area3. This occurred in a course for which I served as instructor: XXX-class (Example: Distributed Embedded Systems (18-649 in Fall 2015)). If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.
After your lawyer confirms that the above text will suffice, you can send me the XXX values you desire and a copy of your transcript to confirm for me that you took the class claimed and earned an A. (It is my policy to only write letters of support for students who receive an "A" in my course.) I will decide whether the areas you are claiming are appropriate, given the class(es) taken, and produce the letter if so. I apologize in advance for being strict in this process, but hopefully you can understand why it is necessary given the many students who take my classes every year and the significant limits on what I am legally able to say. Thank you for your understanding.
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(with thanks to Greg Ganger for much of the above text)