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How to Use the State Department’s Reciprocity Schedule

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Key Takeaways

Sometimes the civil documents you have to submit to support your green card application are not issued by the authorities in your home country. To help address this, the U.S. Department of State publishes a “reciprocity schedule” that you can use to determine which substitute documents the U.S. government will accept for your application. This article explains how to use the reciprocity schedule.

Table of Contents

What is the reciprocity schedule?

The U.S. Department of State uses the reciprocity schedule to advise people on obtaining supporting documents for their green card or U.S. visa applications. It shows whether a document is available, where and how much it costs to get an official copy, and other details based on the country that issued the document. 

If a country other than the United States issued your supporting document, you should check the reciprocity schedule to make sure you are submitting the correct evidence. If your documents don’t meet the guidelines, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could reject them or request additional information. This request will delay your application.

Understanding the reciprocity schedule terminology

The visa reciprocity schedule uses many terms that can be confusing. Here are some common words and what they mean: 

  • Fees - This is the cost of getting a certified or official copy of the supporting document. This section will also tell you the payment types the institution will accept and the contact information for obtaining your document. This fee is not the same as the nonimmigrant visa fee under the "Visa Classifications" section. 
  • Document Name - This is the official name that the issuing country uses to refer to the document. 
  • Issuing Authority - This is the government agency's name that will give you the copy. 
  • Format (or Special Seals/Color/Format) - This refers to the specific design elements or unique aspects of a document that ensure it is an official copy. For example, in Bangladesh, a marriage certificate for a Muslim couple usually appears printed on a Bangladesh government-issued blue form (Form 1601).
  • Issuing Authority Personnel Title - This is the title of the official responsible for administering the document. 
  • Registration Criteria - This is the process for registering a document with the issuing government agency. It may tell you who can register the document and the registration timeframe. For example, in Ghana, the registration instructions for a marriage certificate depend on whether the marriage was a civil marriage or one following an ethnic group's customary law. 
  • Procedure for Obtaining - These are instructions on obtaining a particular document from an issuing agency, including who to contact. It may also describe who can get the record and what information they need to give. 
  • Certified Copies Available - This indicates whether and where you can request a government-issued document copy.
  • Alternate Documents - These are other documents that fulfill the U.S. government's request for specific documents. For example, the U.S. government accepts a baptismal certificate if you cannot find your birth certificate from Austria. 
  • Exceptions - This explains why a document copy is unavailable for certain groups of people. 

Comments - This is additional information about a record. It may provide legal or historical context about whether a document exists.

How to use the reciprocity schedule

Here is some guidance on how to use the reciprocity schedule. These instructions are only relevant to people applying for immigrant visas or green cards. 

Step 1: Open the reciprocity schedule. 

Visit the U.S. Department of State’s “U.S. Visa: Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country” webpage, which should look like this: 

This site will give you information about the U.S. embassies and consulates in the country issuing your document and the visa services they provide.

Step 2: Filter by country. 

On the left-hand panel boxed in red, select the letter that is the first letter of the country that issued your document. You can also click "All" to see the complete list of countries alphabetically.

Step 3: Find your country. 

Scroll down until you find the country’s name that issued your document and click on it. 

Step 4: Select Your Country. 

After you select the name of your country, you should arrive on a page like this. 

As you scroll down the page, you will see two sections named “Explanation of Terms” and “Visa Classifications.” You should ignore these sections. 

These are only relevant to nonimmigrant visas, visitor visas, or other similar types of visas. The Visa Classifications section tells you whether you need to pay a visa issuance fee or reciprocity fee. It depends on whether your home country has an agreement with the United States where U.S. citizens get a visa application fee waiver for your home country. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) creates reciprocity for citizens of Mexico and Canada. The reciprocity table tells you about the number of entries the visa allows, its validity period, and the associated fees for each visa category.

Step 5: Search for Your Document. 

Scroll down until you find the name of the document you want. Click the plus (+) icon at the end of the bar. For example, if you want your police records, click the red box highlighted above. 

Step 6: Read the Document Details. 

The box will expand and provide you with whether the document is "Available." You should read through the information. If the State Department indicates a document as "N/A," "Unavailable," or "Generally not available," this means there is no guidance about how to get the record. It could also mean the country does not issue the document to citizens of that country for specific reasons. 

However, suppose the U.S. government requires the document for your application. According to immigration law, in that case, you still need to explain the situation. You will still need to provide whatever form of the document you have, an alternative, or a written statement explaining why you don't have the record.

Conclusion

Understanding and using the State Department’s reciprocity schedule can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!

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