Updated and edited September 27, 2019
Applying for a US Entry Waiver requires a character reference letter. This component is a very important part of your application because it helps show the US government that you are a reputable and upstanding citizen who will abide by the laws of the US and it will help convince the border that they should trust you.
It’s best to have three character references to show:
- Evidence of good character
- Gainful employment
- That others trust you
How to write a character reference letter
A character reference letter helps define your character, so it is imperative that you ask your reference to describe your character in a positive light. Be sure to inform your reference as to why you need this letter to help them write to your strongest attributes and contributions.
How the person knows you: In this section, the person will describe your relationship. For example, they may say they know you from work, school, volunteering, community groups, or place of worship. They could also be a friend. It’s best not to use a spouse or family member as a character reference. You want them to appear unbiased. If they know you professionally or through an organization, school or business, have them give their title or role.
How long they have known you: This will help establish that they have some knowledge of your character for a certain period of time.
Body of the letter
In this part of the reference letter, they will give their impression of your character. It’s essential that they give examples of your character and why they feel that way. For example, if your reference says that you are reliable, they could say things like:
- “He is always punctual.”
- “She watches my house and feeds my cat when I’m on vacation.”
- “He hasn’t missed a shift.”
- “She babysat my kids when I had to go to hospital.”
Other qualities they could mention:
When you ask your reference to write the letter, make sure to mention some of these words and ask them to use whichever ones best describe you in their writeup.
Sometimes the person will have known you for some time and will know about your arrest. In this case, they may describe how you have changed since that time, but their statements should show a positive transformation. They should not try to deny or minimize what happened.
At the end of the letter, the reference could include some kind of complimentary statement in conclusion. For example,
- “I would not hesitate to recommend Ms. ___________.”
- “I have complete trust in Mr. ___________.”
Who should write the letter?
These letters are in addition to your employer letter, so you will have to pick people who are not your current employer. For example, you could ask:
- Family friends
- Past employers
- Leaders in your religious community
- Leaders of organizations where you volunteer
Avoid people who may also have criminal records. The more recent the conviction, the harder you should work at finding a person with a good reputation, such as a doctor or other professional.
How should the letter be formatted?
Some people will not ask their character references to put their phone and address on their letter. This is because they are afraid the US government will contact the reference. However, a phone number and address can greatly add to the credibility of a reference. In fact, often a reference will include their address or letterhead without being asked as this is proper business style. Don’t worry too much about this. We have never heard of a US official contacting a waiver reference.
It’s preferable for the letter to be typed, but, if not, the reference should write or print as neatly as possible. A date and ink signature is essential. The letter should be short. One or two pages are enough. It does not need a separate envelope as you will be bringing all these documents to the border or airport as one package.
Whatever you do, do not try to fake a reference. Though the US government doesn’t actually phone the references to verify them, they will figure out pretty quickly that you are trying to deceive them.