Understanding the Department of State Reciprocity Schedule07 Dec 2016
Nonimmigrant U.S. visa foils (commonly referred to as visa “stamps”) of the same classification can have different validity periods, maximum allowable admissions, and applicable fees depending on the nationality of the applicant. For example, a B-1/B-2 visitor visa typically is valid for ten years for Indian citizens, five years for Indonesians, one year for Australians, and three months for Burmese. Similarly, while French passport holders can use the same B-1/B-2 visa for multiple entries into the United States, Cambodians are only allowed two entries per visa, and Laotians one. The reason for these differences is the concept referred to as reciprocity, based generally on what the other country offers to U.S. citizens applying for the same type of visa. The visa specifics for each country and information regarding the availability of certain civil documents (such as birth or marriage certificates) in each country are detailed in the reciprocity schedule maintained by the U.S. Department of State (DOS).
What is Reciprocity?
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires the DOS to set country-specific visa policies on a reciprocal basis. That is, the validity periods, numbers of admissions, and visa fees are based on each country’s treatment of similar classes of U.S. visitors to its territory, as well as national security, immigration, and other considerations. If a country imposes restrictive visa requirements on U.S. citizens, the United States reciprocates with more restrictive requirements on that country’s citizens. According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, which provides official guidance to consular officers, the purpose of reciprocity is to “to obtain progressive visa regimes, consistent with U.S. national interests, laws and regulations, to encourage international travel that benefits U.S. travelers and business.”
Reciprocity usually is not determined in formal agreements between the United States and other countries, nor does U.S. visa policy exactly mirror that of other countries. Instead, reciprocity is based on the requirements other countries impose on U.S. travelers in practice and is reciprocal “insofar as practicable.” The DOS examines each country’s treatment of U.S. visitors and then uses this analysis to determine how to treat that country’s travelers within the existing U.S. visa regime. Reciprocity, however, does not give a country’s citizens more beneficial treatment than the baseline established by regulation and policy. For example, nonimmigrant visa fees are at least $160 (for non-petition-based), $190 (for petition-based), or $205 (for treaty traders / investors), but could be more based on reciprocity. Similarly, the maximum validity period does not exceed 10 years for B-2 visas, five years for F-1 visas, or the petition expiration date for petition-based visas, but could be less based on reciprocity.
Reading the Reciprocity Schedule
The current reciprocity schedule can be found on the DOS WebSite. The reciprocity schedule breaks down the applicable fee, validity period, and number of entries on a country- and visa classification-specific basis. The fee column lists any extra fee to be collected if the visa is approved. This amount, if any, is in addition to the usual visa fee. Therefore, if the fee column reads “none,” no additional fee is required. The number-of-entries column lists how many times a single visa can be used to request admission to the United States, and the validity period provides the length of time before the visa expires. It is important to note, however, that when warranted, a consular officer typically has authority to limit the number of entries and the validity period for a particular applicant despite reciprocity.
Civil Documents on the Reciprocity Schedule
The online reciprocity schedule also includes other visa-related data, including information regarding the U.S. embassies and consulates that issue visas in the country and certain civil documents that can be obtained from government authorities there. Although this information is listed in the reciprocity schedule, it does not have anything to do with reciprocity. The reciprocity schedule was simply a convenient place to include additional country-specific information for visa applicants and other interested parties.
In the civil documents sections, the reciprocity schedule lists certain documents, whether they exist, and what they are called in a given country, and the government office/s that may issue them. Such documents include birth and death certificates, marriage and divorce certificates, adoption certificates, military and police records, and more. All visa applicants should read the application instructions and required documents section of the embassy or consulate website to determine what civil documents are required for their particular case.
Many stakeholders may be largely unfamiliar with the reciprocity schedule, but it plays an important role in the world of U.S. immigration law. The civil document list detailed alongside each country’s reciprocity schedule is also a helpful tool for foreign nationals trying to determine what document/s are likely to be acceptable to a consular officer from a particular country.
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