How To Use The Reciprocity Schedule For Non-U.S. Documents

If you have ever applied for a green card, you have probably heard about the Reciprocity Schedule. Alternatively, if you have never heard about this term but you intend to apply for a green card from outside the United States, chances are you will hear about it soon. The good thing is, this guide has everything you need to know about a reciprocity schedule so you may have an easier time with your green card application. But before we dig into more details, let’s first take a look at the meaning of the reciprocity schedule.

What Is The Reciprocity Schedule?

The reciprocity schedule refers to a set of guidelines set and maintained by the U.S. Department of State for nonimmigrant visa applicants for the purpose of obtaining supporting documents for green card applications. This schedule shows the availability of a certain document, where to find it, including the costs involved, and other important information needed by the applicant.

Understanding The Principle Of Reciprocity

Reciprocity refers to the practice of exchanging things between two parties for mutual benefit, particularly privileges offered by one country or organization to another. In the case of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, this principle applies to countries that impose fees on American citizens for certain types of visas. As a result, the U.S. government imposes a reciprocal fee on citizens of that country for similar types of visas.

Things To Know Before Using The Reciprocity Schedule

One of the most important things is to ensure you have the correct documents prior to submitting your immigration petition to the United States government. This is especially important if your document was issued in a country other than the United States. By checking the reciprocity schedule, it ensures you have the proper version of the document before submitting it to the U.S. government and that you have paid the correct fees.

Also, if a particular document does not meet the guidelines explained on the Reciprocity Schedule, it may be rejected. In some cases, you may receive an official Request for Evidence, consequently delaying your application.

How To Find Out If You Have To Pay A Reciprocity Fee For Your Application

To find out if you are required to pay a reciprocity fee prior to submitting your application, go to the U.S. Department of State website and follow these steps:

Step #1 – Locate The Reciprocity Schedule On The Menu

On the home page of the US Department of State website, click on the U.S. Visas tab, and then select U.S. Visa: Reciprocity and Civil Documents by Country. You will be redirected to a new page showing a list of countries on the left-hand side.

Step #2 – Select Your Country

To select your country, click on the first letter of your country from the provided letters of the alphabet. For example, if your country is Kenya, click on letter ‘K’ and you will see a list of countries starting with this letter. Locate your country name, and click on it. Alternatively, if your country has already been listed down in this section, you do not have to look it up by the first letter. You only need to click on it to be redirected to the next page.

Step #3 – Understand The Terms

On the Reciprocity Page, you will encounter several terms that you need to understand before proceeding to the next step. Here’s a list of the terms and their definitions:

Visa Classification

This basically means the type of nonimmigrant visa you are applying for. The type of visa varies depending on your application.

Reciprocity Visa Fee

Although it sounds self-explanatory, this term can be confusing especially with matters concerning immigration. Also referred to as the visa issuance fee, this is the additional amount paid on top of the Nonimmigrant Visa Application fee for your country.

Difference Between Reciprocity Fee and the MRV fee

The MRV fee is usually paid by most applicants as processing fees prior to obtaining U.S. visas. This fee is nonrefundable, whether the application has been rejected or approved. It is used to cover the costs of processing a U.S. visa application.

The U.S. Department of State website has a page that shows visa processing fees for different countries. The webpage also lists certain visa categories that do not require the MRV fee.

The reciprocity fee, on the other hand, is only changed if an nonimmigrant visa applicant has been approved to travel into the United States. This usually happens after the visa interview.

Number Of Entries

It simply refers to the number of times you may enter the United States with the selected type of visa. For example, if the Number of Entries category is labeled ‘M’ it means you can enter into the US multiple times. If labeled ‘One’, you may only enter into the U.S. once.

Validity Period

This refers to the period between the date the visa was issued, and its expiry date. For instance, if your visa was issued on January 1, 2021, and expires on January 1, 2022, it is, therefore, valid for 12 months.

Step #4 – Select Your Visa

Now, back to the Reciprocity Schedule, you will see a list of non-immigrant visas grouped by the first letter. For example, if you are applying for Nonimmigrant (V) Visa for Spouse and Children of a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), it will be found under the ‘V’ category.

How To Tell Which Type Of Visa You Need

The U.S. Department of State classifies visas into two categories. Here’s a quick look at each one of them.

Nonimmigrant visas

These are visas issued to foreign nationals who intend to enter the United States temporarily for tourism, medical treatment, business, or some temporary work.

Immigrant visas

These are visas issued to foreign nationals who intend to immigrate into the United States permanently.

Based on the aforementioned examples, you now need to select the type of visa you are applying for on the Reciprocity Schedule. If you are applying for the K-1 Visa, also known as Nonimmigrant Visa for a Fianc(é)e, for example, click on the letter ‘K’ under the Visa Classifications menu.

You will see the fee, the number of entries, and the validity period for this type of visa based on the reciprocity schedule for your country. You may refer to the definitions discussed above to further understand each one of these terms.

Step #5 – Find Your Document

The USCIS provides a list of documents needed for your application based on the selected type of visa. The list of documents is usually found under the General Documents accordion on the Reciprocity Schedule page.

Interpreting The Results Of The General Documents Section

When you click on the General Documents accordion, you may see the following results:

Available

This means the document is available, and will include any other information you need to know about it.

Not Applicable

This means that the state department has no guidance from the issuing country for the specific document.

Unavailable

Same as above. You may contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country for more information.

Generally Not Available

Same as above. You may contact the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country for more information.

Understanding The Temporary Reciprocity Schedule

In cases where there is no formal reciprocity schedule developed, the US government may issue a Temporary Reciprocity Schedule. This option also applies to a stateless visa applicant who is not living in another foreign country as a permanent resident, and to a refugee who has not resettled in another foreign country.

Who Is A Stateless Visa Applicant?

A stateless visa applicant is an individual applying for a visa and is not considered a citizen of any country. There are different reasons why a person may be considered stateless. Some of the most common ones include gaps in nationality laws, immigration from the country of birth, the emergence of new states or changes in borders, and loss of nationality.

For example, some countries may offer a pathway to citizenship only to children born to citizens of the country. Therefore, children of unknown parents may be considered stateless. Some countries may also terminate a person’s citizenship if they serve in the military of a foreign country, thus rendering them stateless. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are at least two million stateless people all over the world, as of January 2021.

Getting The Most Out Of The U.S. Department Of State Website

Whether you are applying for a nonimmigrant or immigrant visa, here are some useful tips to guide you throughout the process:

Always Provide Evidence

It is always important to provide evidence along with your immigration petition. Although sometimes it may be quite difficult to access the original copy due to different reasons, you can always provide the ‘Alternate Documents’ listed in the Schedule. You may also provide secondary evidence; for instance, if you have no access to an original document because of a natural disaster that destroyed your property, e.g. floods, you may provide evidence that the flooding actually occurred and that you were affected. This is what is known as secondary evidence.

Translate Documents Not Written In English

Remember to translate any document not written in English. While doing so, you must ensure that the translation is accurate and not altered in any way for the purposes of influencing the results of your application.

Do Not Ignore The General Documents Tab

In most countries, the General Documents accordion of the State Department website displays ‘no general information.’ However, every now and then, the U.S. Department of State will add important information and alerts in this section, which could impact your application.

Always Read The Comments

If you ever come across comments under each type of document, do not ignore them. These comments are usually meant to pass a certain message about a particular document or application. For instance, since divorce is not legal for Buddhist and Hindu couples in Bangladesh, the Department of State requires that divorce records be obtained only from a country that recognizes Buddhist or Hindu divorces.

Always Process Documents On Time

The State Department may require additional documents along with your application. To speed up the application, it is advisable to start the process right away.

Additional Terms Used By The United States Department Of State

While browsing through the State Department website, you may encounter the following terms. Here’s a quick preview, and their meaning.

Document Name

This simply means the official name used to describe the document by the issuing country. Such documents may have other non-English names; in Bangladesh, for instance, ‘Nikah Nama’ is the name of a marriage certificate issued to a Muslim couple.

Format

This refers to the outline of information or the unique elements of an official copy of a document. For example, in Kenya, birth certificates are usually red in color. In Bangladesh, a marriage certificate given to a Muslim couple comes on a Bangladeshi government-issued blue form, also known as Form 1601.

Issuing Authority

This refers to the body of the government agency that has jurisdiction to issue a certain document. In Pakistan, for instance, the Directorate General of Immigration and Passports is the issuing authority for documents relating to Pakistani citizenship, visas, and passports.

Exceptions

This term is used to describe a situation when a document is not available for certain groups of people because of immigration law or other reasons.

Procedure For Obtaining

The exact definition of this term depends on the context. It may refer to the instructions provided by the issuing authority for obtaining a certain document. It may also refer to the person or agency that should be contacted to obtain a certain document. In some cases, it may refer to the specific individual who is eligible for a certain application, and the required documents that should be filed by the said applicant.

Visa Issuing Posts

This is the name of the American consulate or embassy that issues the visa. On the Reciprocity Page, the Visa Issuing Posts category displays the name of the embassy/consulate, physical address, and contact information. To avoid fraud and scams, it is always advisable to use only the contact information provided on the State Department website.

Alternate Documents

These are other documents that could replace a certain type of document required by the State Department prior to processing a visa. Alternate documents come in handy if the original documents cannot be accessed due to different reasons.

Now that you know a thing or two about the reciprocity schedule, you shouldn’t have much of a problem accessing the type of form you need. However, in the event that you need help filing a certain form or understanding the process, contacting an experienced immigration attorney is always a great idea. The attorney should be able to help with you everything, from filling out the application, gathering all required supporting documents to processing payment, and so much more.

As a reminder, the reason the American government creates such online tools is to ensure applicants are able to access everything they need to file their immigration petitions. This section of the State Department website also contains important announcements and updates for people seeking to immigrate into the country.