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- Criminal background documents – “police certificates” – are required in marriage-based and fiancee visa cases, but not adjustment of status.
- Certificates are required for every country you have lived in for 12 months or longer since age 16.
- You can save time by requested police certificates early in your case lifecycle.
- Each country has different procedures for requesting police certificates – find yours here.
Police certificates are official records of an an individual’s criminal background, or lack thereof. These certificates are mandatory documents in all marriage-based and fiancee visa cases. In adjustment of status applications they are not required.
When should I request my police certificate(s)?
Most people don’t get around to requesting their police certificate until their case has progressed to the U.S. consulate and they have received the instruction letter from the consulate. But because you’re reading this, you can be more prepared then the average applicant and make your life less stressful in the weeks before your interview.
Police certificates are typically valid for a period of one year. Request them too early and it’s possible that you will have to get updated certificates before the consulate will approve your visa. Given that fiancee petitions currently take around 8 months, you should be safe if you wait a few months after the I-129F petition has been filed, then start requesting police certificates. Then, when the case makes it to the consulate, you will already have this item out of the way.
One caveat is that some police agencies will require proof of an active visa application before processing your request. These agencies want to see that your case is at the consulate, not just that the Form I-129F has been filed. See below for identifying instructions for the police certificates that you will need.
For what countries must you submit police certificates?
Most of my clients are citizens of only one country, where they have lived their whole lives. If that’s true for you, this is easy: you submit a police certificate from that country (and no other country). But what if you have moved around? In that case it becomes more complicated. Here is the clearest summary I can give.
Country of your nationality. If you are are citizen of Country X and lived in Country X for at least six months – at any point in your life – then you need a police certificate from Country X. This applies to the vast majority of applicants.
Country of current residence. If you are currently living in Country Y, and have been living there for at least 6 months, then you need a police certificate from Country Y. Realistically, I would almost always request a police certificate from my client’s current country of residence. It will only create further delays for you if the consulate later requests a police certificate from you.
Any country where you have lived 12+ months. If you have ever lived in any country for 12 months or longer then you must present a police certificate from that country. It doesn’t matter why you were spending time in the country (work, school or just for fun). If you were there 12 months or longer you should request a police certificate.
Any country in which you have been arrested. If you have ever been arrested anywhere in the world, for any reason, you will need to provide a police certificate from that country. On top of that, you will likely need to submit original, certified copies of the arrest record, along with any resulting court case. I discuss obtaining arrest and court records elsewhere in this resource.
How do I request a police certificate?
The procedures for requesting police certificates are different for each country. Not only that, but sometimes you will have to file the request with more than one agency, one country-wide and one local. Fortunately, the Department of State publishes pretty good and up-to-date instructions on making these requests.
The official instructions for requesting police certificates are buried in a resource called Reciprocity Tables and Civil Documents, available at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/Visa-Reciprocity-and-Civil-Documents-by-Country.html. Navigate to that page, then use the navigation tool on the left-hand side to select the country you are interested in.
Select the country you want. Scroll past the Reciprocity Schedule, which concerns the arrangements that the U.S. has with that country regarding visa fees and duration. You will then find lists of various “civil documents” including police records.
Here, for example, are the instructions for the United Kingdom. You’ll see that the instructions link to an external site for a police agency, which is common. In other countries, the instructions on this website will tell you to file a written request with a given agency, or to appear at a particular office to get fingerprinted.
Submitting police certificates.
Marriage-based visa cases.
In marriage-based visa cases, your police certificates will be submitted to the National Visa Center (NVC). The certificates are required for your case to be considered documentarily qualified”, meaning it cannot progress to the consulate until you have submitted them. Under new guidelines, you are permitted to submit a copy of the police certificate rather than the original. This can be helpful as a way to reduce delays and costs, as you do not need to wait for the original document to be shipped from across the world. But hang onto the original certificate, as it will be required at the consular interview.
Fiance vases cases.
As you know at this point, for fiancee visa cases supporting documents are submitted directly to the consulate rather than NVC. As described earlier in this resource, you will need to review the specific instructions to your consulate to determine the procedure for submitting supporting documents. Usually, a copy of the police certificate is submitted in advance of the interview, either electronically or via courier. If you submit a copy, carefully maintain the original because you will want to bring it to your visa interview.