What is a Clearance Letter?

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  • Written By: Pablo Garcia
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 April 2020
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A clearance letter is a document confirming a person’s lack of a criminal history in a place where the requesting party has lived or worked. this document may be needed to obtain, change or update a visa. Clearance letters are issued by the local police authority where the person worked or lived and are an affirmative statement that the person has a clean criminal record. “Police certificates” are also issued for visa and immigration purposes. A police certificate lists all arrests and their dispositions or states “none found.”

Resident aliens in the US, as well as US citizens traveling abroad or wishing to adopt a child from another country may need to have a clearance letter. Most countries will require applicants for a visa to have a clearance letter or a police certificate.

A clearance letter in the US can be obtained in person or in some circumstances by mail, from the local police authority where the person has lived. The applications are short and request basic identifying information. Supporting documents should be brought in person. In some jurisdictions, copies of supporting documents can be mailed with the application. An applicant should check with the issuing police authority. The letter can usually be issued in just a few days.

Visa applicants to the US age 16 or older must obtain police certificates from every locality in which they have lived in their country of nationality. Additionally, a police certificate is required from every locality in which they have lived in another country for more than 12 months since the age of 16. If the applicant has ever been arrested, a police certificate is necessary from that locality regardless of the length of time the applicant lived there. US Immigration maintains a list of all countries that do not issue police certificates to their citizens.

To be valid, a police certificate must contain the details of the arrests, the nature of the offense and any disposition, whether or not there was a conviction. A police certificate may be for a variety of reasons, including visa applications, including those for foreign school attendance and employment. Every country will have its own rules about what contents in a police certificate can result in denial of a visa application.

The United Kingdom does not issue clearance letters to individuals. They will, however, give information to the appropriate consulate. Most countries do issue police certificates to their citizens. The procedure is much the same in each country. The request for the certificate is made to the police authority where the person lives. Each country has its own requirements about the length of residency in a particular country that makes a police certificate from that country necessary.

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Post 2

@Terrificli -- Those felonies should stay out of a clearance letter, but nothing is absolute. What I mean by that is that state law generally governs expungements and whether things stay off your record. Some state laws keep expunged information off of employment applications but allow it for other background checks.

The thing about the criminal justice system is that it is terribly non uniform and varies from state to state. It is hard to give a definitive answer to your question, then.

Post 1

One thing I do not fully understand about these clearance letters is how much information they contain. Let me be clear. Say that you get a conviction for a minor felony. You are put on probation with the understanding that the crime will not appear on your record if you meet all terms of your probation and stay out of trouble. Will the crime show up in that clearance letter?

Also, what if you get a felony but have it expunged (removed from your criminal history)? Will that information show up in the clearance letter?

In other words, if something is kept off of your record or expunged, does it really stay off your record?

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