How to Obtain a Police Clearance Certificate

If you’re applying for a green card, officially known as a permanent resident card, you will have to meet certain requirements. You will need to prove that you are of good moral character. The United States will only approve applicants who are law-abiding, productive members of society.

You may be asked to obtain a police clearance certificate. If so, you will need to acquire a police clearance certificate from each country you lived in. The U.S. embassy can’t provide you with a police clearance certificate from another country. You will need to obtain it yourself.

uscis immigration forms lie on table
USCIS immigration forms lie on a table ready to fill. This complicated process can be stalled if you need to obtain a police clearance certificate.

What is a Police Clearance Certificate?

A police clearance certificate, also called a police certificate, may be called something different in your home country. For example, in Hong Kong, it’s called a good citizen certificate. In Australia, it’s called a national police history check.

No matter what your home country calls it, this document is issued as part of a background check conducted by police or government agencies. It will list any criminal history for your stay in a specific area. Information found in a police clearance certificate may include:

  • Arrest records
  • Convictions
  • Criminal proceedings

The purpose of a police clearance certificate is to prove your moral character. The United States screens all green card petitioners to ensure only ethical, responsible applicants are approved. A criminal record may cause your petition to be denied.

Who Needs a Police Clearance Certificate?

Not every U.S. immigration application will require a police clearance certificate. Applicants who need to obtain this certificate include:

  • Green card petitioners aged 16 or older who apply through a U.S. consulate
  • Green card petitioners aged 16 or older who apply through Form I-485 and failed to attend a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) biometrics appointment

A USCIS biometrics appointment will involve submitting fingerprints for a criminal background check so this appointment serves the same purpose as a police clearance certificate. Green card petitioners who are required to submit a police clearance certificate must obtain one from each country where they resided for six months or more after the age of 16.

Where Do I Get a Police Clearance Certificate?

The U.S. Department of State lists police clearance certificate issuing authorities on their reciprocity page. Countries are listed alphabetically by the first letter. 

For example, if your home country is Mexico, click on the letter M and scroll down to Mexico. In this case, the issuing authority for police clearance certificates is the State Police (Fiscalía General del Estado). The proper procedure to obtain a police certificate from Mexico will be to contact the individual State Police for instructions.

Each country may have slightly different procedures for issuing a police clearance certificate. However, you will likely be required to visit a police station to provide your:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Fingerprints
  • Passport or other proof of identity

Police Clearance Certificates from the United States

If you need a police clearance certificate from the United States, contact the local police station from the area you lived in. After completing the application process for a police clearance certificate, it may be a few weeks before you receive the document. 

If Your Police Clearance Certificate Is Not in English

It’s entirely likely that countries using other languages may keep records in their national language. If your police clearance certificate is issued in any language other than English, it will need to be translated. Additionally, you will need to submit your translated document with a translation certificate to ensure it is a complete and accurate translation.

How Long Does a Police Clearance Certificate Remain Valid?

If you are applying for a green card, you will need to bring a valid police clearance certificate to your immigration interview. Your police clearance certificate will remain valid for one year from the date it was issued. This expiration date is meant to ensure that you have not committed a crime after your police clearance certificate was issued.

If a Police Clearance Certificate Is Not Available

If you visit the U.S. State Department’s website and do not find the country you need a police clearance certificate from, it might not be available. Not every country offers a way to share police records. 

If a police clearance certificate is unavailable for your home country or another country you lived in, you will need a personal affidavit. This is a written statement explaining why you could not get a police clearance certificate and listing the attempts you made. You will need to have your statement notarized.

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