Having a criminal record can affect your ability to receive immigration benefits, whether you’re seeking a temporary visa, green card, or an adjustment of status. But under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) convictions for certain crimes, or admissions to committing certain crimes, will automatically make you “inadmissible” to the United States. If you’ve been convicted of or admitted to any of these crimes, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will deny your immigration case, unless you will not succeed in your immigration case, unless USCIS grants you a waiver of admissibility.
The Immigration and Nationality Act
Section 212 (A) of the Immigration Nationality Act sets forth the crimes that are grounds for inadmissibility, or in other words, ineligibility for a temporary or permanent visa to the US. Among other things, you will become inadmissible if you’re convicted of or admitted to having committed:
- A crime of moral turpitude (e.g., murder, rape, child abuse, aggravated assault, theft, perjury, fraud, and many other crimes)
- A violation of any controlled substance law (drugs), whether in the U.S. or abroad.
- Multiple criminal convictions for which the total prison sentences were five years or more.
- Illicit trafficking in any controlled substance (drugs).
- Benefiting, financially or otherwise, from illicit drug trafficking, by a spouse, son, or daughter of the trafficker within the previous five years.
- Prostitution and commercialized vice, including procuring prostitutes or receiving proceeds from prostitution.
- Human trafficking or benefitting from human trafficking, whether inside or outside the United States.
- Money laundering.
This list provided here is not exhaustive, and each crime may have particular nuances or exceptions. Also, every criminal jurisdiction will define and use words for crimes in different ways. One important job of an immigration attorney is to “translate” your state or foreign conviction into the language of the INA in order to determine where it falls on the INA’s list of problematic crimes.
Waiver for Inadmissible Crimes
In some cases, you may be able to gain entry into the United States despite your criminal history if the USCIS grants you a “forgiveness” waiver. Section 212(i) 212(h) of the INA describes the waivers for criminal history for someone applying for a visa or a green card. There are also special waivers available in Immigration Court, for example, under INA 237(a)(1)(H) for fraud/misrepresentations that do not result in criminal convictions and 240A for individuals who have been in the US at least 7 years (if a green card holder) or 10 years (if not a green card holder). Also, there is a general waiver under INA 212(d) for applicants for nonimmigrant (aka temporary) visas.
What to do if you have a criminal history
If you have a criminal history and you’re applying for immigration benefits in the United States, it’s crucial to seek the help of an experienced immigration lawyer. I’ve helped clients around the world with a range of complicated immigration issues, and I’d like to help you too.