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Your Guide to Police Clearance Certificates

Authored by Wendy R. Barlow

Issues with Law Enforcement

Immigration institutions require many forms and documents from people seeking immigration benefits. The types of documents needed vary according to the type of visa or green card you’re seeking and if you’re applying from inside or outside of the United States.

A police clearance certificate is among the most important required documents for green card applicants applying from abroad. Immigration authorities use your police clearance certificate to determine whether you are eligible for an immigrant visa and should be issued one as a matter of discretion. Today, we’re exploring answers to some FAQs about police clearance certificates that you need to know before your immigration interview. 

What Is a Police Clearance Certificate?

A police clearance certificate (PCC) is a certificate created by law enforcement authorities that details someone’s criminal history or arrest record in their home country or a country where they previously lived or were arrested. If you don’t have a police record, a certificate stating that your criminal background is clear (sometimes called a good conduct certificate) will be issued instead of your detailed criminal record. If you do have a criminal background, the certificate will provide details about your charges. It may also contain information about any convictions and sentences imposed. 

A police clearance certificate is one of the most important parts of your record check because it can determine your eligibility for immigration benefits. Even if you have family members who are U.S. citizens, you may not be allowed to relocate to reunite with them if you don’t have a police clearance certificate or valid proof of no criminal record. 

Who Needs a Police Clearance Certificate?

Police clearance certificates are required for anyone over the age of 16 who is applying for a green card (including a family or spousal green card) from outside of the United States. People in the United States filling out an application for adjustment of status to lawful permanent residents are required to submit different documents. 

Some immigrant visa applicants may need multiple police clearance certificates if they’ve lived in more than one country. You need a police clearance certificate from any country where you lived for more than 12 months if were older than 16 years of age at the time. 

You’ll also need a police clearance certificate of your country of origin or place of birth if you’ve lived there for more than six months and from the country where you currently reside (if different) if you’ve lived there for more than six months. You’ll also need a police clearance certificate from any country where you were previously arrested with the exception of the United States. 

The National Visa Center (NVC) requires you to submit a copy of your police clearance certificate prior to your immigrant visa interview. You’ll be asked to bring the original official document to your appointment with you. 

How Do You Obtain a Police Clearance Certificate?

From Mexico to India, every country has its own procedure for obtaining a police clearance certificate. The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs provides a tool that allows you to easily locate certificate issuing authorities in every country as well as an overview of the process to request the certificate. Almost every country has a straightforward process for obtaining a police clearance certificate. If your country doesn’t, there’s an alternative mentioned below.

What Happens If Your Country Doesn’t Issue Police Clearance Certificates?

Most countries issue police clearance certificates or an equivalent document that can be used in place of a clearance certificate. If your country doesn’t have one, the tool linked above will state that such a certificate is unavailable. Immigration officials won’t penalize you for not being able to obtain a document that doesn’t exist. 

If your country’s listing doesn’t state that documents are unavailable, but you are still unable to obtain a clearance certificate, there’s an alternative method. You can submit a signed and notarized affidavit with a thorough explanation of why you couldn’t obtain a police clearance certificate. Immigration officials will use the information in this affidavit to verify your reasoning. 

If immigration authorities find that you were accurate and truthful, you can bypass the requirement. If authorities find that you misrepresented the situation, you may experience significant complications with your immigration case.

What Happens If Your Police Clearance Certificate Is Completed in Another Language?

If English isn’t a primary language in your country, your police clearance certificate will likely be completed in the most commonly spoken language in your area. Your clearance certificate does not need to be translated into English if it is the official language of the country from which you are applying for an immigrant visa. However, if the certificate is not in English or the official language of the country where you are applying, it will need to be translated into English. 

The Department of State requires you to submit the certificate with a certified English translation prepared by a professional translator or certified by a professional translation service. The translator needs to certify the translation is accurate and that they are competent to translate. If you use a translator, you’ll need to provide contact information for the translator in the event that the Department of State has additional questions or wants to verify their identity. 

When Should You Get Your Police Clearance Certificate?

Your police clearance certificate needs to be less than two years old by the time immigration officials receive it. If your criminal background check is outdated, immigration officials can’t use it to make an informed decision. The best option is to request a PCC as soon as you know you need it so it will be as new as possible when you submit your required documents for your immigration case.

Ask your local issuing authority or police department about the average processing time for a police clearance certificate and plan accordingly. You may only need to request a new certificate a few weeks before your immigration interview.

Can You Still Immigrate to the United States If You Have a Criminal Record?

Having a criminal record doesn’t necessarily exclude you from immigration benefits in the United States. Laws are different around the world, and certain acts that are illegal in some countries are perfectly acceptable in the United States. 

For example, 65 countries criminalize homosexuality. In the United States, same-sex relationships are not criminalized and same-sex marriage is completely legal. If your criminal history relates to your sexuality, the United States has no interest in barring you from entering the country. If you were charged with or convicted of something that the U.S. doesn’t consider to be criminal behavior, it’s highly unlikely that it will become a negative determining factor in the immigration process.

If you were charged or convicted of a violent crime, sex crime, or drug-related crime, you will almost certainly be denied entrance into the United States. Immigration authorities have a duty to protect the American public, and allowing someone with a potentially dangerous criminal record to immigrate to the United States would violate their duty. You may need to speak with an immigration attorney about your options if this scenario applies to you. 

What Happens After You Submit Your Police Clearance Certificate?

After immigration services officials review your documents, including your police clearance certificates, you will be scheduled for an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you’re eligible to immigrate, you’ll be issued an immigrant visa that you can use to enter the United States. After you enter the United States, you will be a lawful permanent resident, and your green card will be sent to you by mail.

If you hold your permanent resident status and remain in good standing for five years (three years if married to a United States citizen), you’re eligible for naturalization and can become a U.S. citizen if you choose to do so. 

If you don’t want to become a United States citizen, you’ll need to continuously renew your green card. Most green cards are valid for ten years. If you continue to follow the law, you can renew your green card as many times as you’d like and remain in the USA with documentation.

Do You Need Assistance With Your Immigration Case?

If you cannot obtain a police clearance certificate or if your clearance certificate shows that you’ve been in trouble with the police or a government agency in another country, you may need assistance when pursuing a green card in the United States. 

Depending on the nature of the crime you were convicted of, it may not be possible to immigrate. There are many cases where an experienced immigration attorney may be able to help you successfully explain your situation to immigration authorities.

The law team at Cohen, Tucker + Ades can help. Contact us for a consultation on your immigration case. After reviewing the details, we’ll be able to provide you with the best options and solutions for your situation.


Submitting Documents to the NVC | U.S. Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs

U.S. Visa: Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country | U.S. Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs

Your Four-Step Guide to Meeting the USCIS Certified Translation Requirements | American Translators Association

Map of Countries that Criminalise LGBT People | Human Dignity Trust


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