How to Obtain a Police Certificate for a Green Card Application?

Updated on 11/02/2020

The green card application process can be long and complicated. In addition to filling out forms and providing other evidence, you may need to submit a police certificate. You might feel overwhelmed when you realize that you will need to obtain a police clearance record, because you may not know where to go to get one.

Police Certificate

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1. What is a police certificate?

A police certificate is also known as police clearance certificate. It is an official document issued as a result of a background check by the police or government agency of a country to enumerate any criminal records that the applicant may have. In immigration-related applications, it is used by the responsive U.S. government agency as a method of keeping potentially dangerous persons from getting their green card and entering the United States.

2. Green card applicants who need a police certificate

A police certificate is not required for all applicants for lawful permanent resident (LPR, a.k.a. green card) status. Only the following green card applicants need to submit a police certificate:

Only those who are already living in the United States may be entitled to file an I-485 adjustment of status. Green card applicants filed adjustment of status will be required to appear at a biometrics appointment. At the appointment, USCIS will take their fingerprint which will be used to conduct a criminal background check against them. As such, they will not need to submit a police certificate unless USCIS failed to take their fingerprint. It does happen to some elder applicants whose fingerprints disappear or blurred and thus USCIS fails to take their fingerprints.

Green card applicants who are required to submit a police certificate must provide a police certificate from each of countries or regions (excluding the United States) where they have lived there for consecutive 6 months any time after their 16 years of age birthday. It does not matter if the applicant knows that they do not have a criminal record in one of their former countries. They will still need the police certificate.

3. When a police certificate is needed?

If green card applicants apply for green card/immigrant visa through a U.S. consulate, the National Visa Center (NVC) will notify them to submit a police certificate and other civil documents (i.e. birth certificate, passport, photo, and marriage certificate or divorce paper if applicable) and I-864 affidavit of support documents. Generally, the timeline to submit a police certificate is 1 year from NVC’s initial notification. However, a police certificate is valid for 1 year only. As a result, green card applicants might need to bring a new one to their immigrant visa interview at the U.S. consulate if the old one is invalid on the interview date.

If green card applicants apply for green card through adjustment of status, they are not required to submit a police certificate until USCIS requests it by sending them a Request for Evidence (RFE). Generally, USCIS will give applicants 90 days to respond such type of RFE.

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4. Where to get a police certificate?

Police Certificate from foreign countries

Fortunately, the United States has arrangements with many nations or regions around the world with regard to immigration, so it should not be too difficult to get a police clearance certificate from one or more of those countries or regions.

If green card applicants are required to submit a police certificate from foreign countries or regions, they can check the Department of State’s website to see if one or more of these countries or regions has a Reciprocity Page.

Once the green card applicant finds that country or region’s reciprocity page, they just need to click on the tabs to see which civil documents can be requested from that country. The website will state the issuing authority for police clearance certificates in that particular nation or region.

Police Certificate from the United States

If green card applicants are required to submit a police certificate from the United States, they just need to contact or visit the local police department/station of the area where they have lived. A police certificate is a commonly known document that can be issued by a local police authority, although different titles are given, like police clearance certificate, police clearance letter, no criminal record letter, etc. 

5. How long is a police certificate valid?

The police certificate is valid for one year only. Moreover, green card applicants must bring a valid police certificate to their immigrant visa interview at the U.S. consulate. This requirement ensures that the government of the USA obtains the most recent information about the green card applicants. Otherwise, someone could have obtained a clean police clearance a few years ago, but then committed some crimes during the preceding year.

6. What if a police certificate is not in English?

Clearly, countries that do not have English as their national language might maintain their police and court records in a foreign language. In such cases, the applicant for lawful permanent resident status would need to acquire a translation to English.

Actually, for any immigration document, all evidence must be translated into the English language and must be accompanied by a certificate of translation. The translation certificate should be signed by a translator who swears that they are well-versed in the foreign language and are well aware of the contents of the document that they translated. Click here to get a template certificate of translation.

7. What if a police certificate is not available?

You might be alarmed if you go to the U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs website and do not find the countries that you need for your police certificate. Even if you find a Reciprocity Page, there might not be mutuality with regard to police clearance records.

If this is the case, the website will specifically state that such documents are “Unavailable” in that country. When you are unable to obtain your police certificate for a particular country, but you did live there, or it is your country of nationality, the next option is to write a sworn personal affidavit.

The affidavit should state all of the reasonable attempts that you made to acquire your police certificate, as well as the valid reasons why you could not obtain it, despite your sincere efforts. This sworn written statement should be signed in the presence of a notary public so that their seal is on the document.

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