Implications of a Criminal Conviction on a Visa or Immigration Application

As a non-U.S. citizen entering or residing in the United States, you face stricter legal requirements than citizens. Any criminal activity, including arrests and convictions, can place your status in the U.S. in jeopardy. If you're a permanent resident (green card holder), a criminal conviction could be grounds for deportation. If you're trying to get a visa to enter the U.S., you might not be admissible with a conviction on your record.

If you're worried about a criminal conviction in Pennsylvania impacting your legal status in the U.S., an experienced defense attorney can let you know what your options are.

Will A Felony Conviction Prevent You from Entering the U.S.?

The U.S. immigration authorities may not admit you to the U.S. if you have certain crimes on your record. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) lists the grounds for making a foreign national inadmissible to the U.S.

Inadmissible crimes for entry to the U.S.

  • A crime of moral turpitude
  • Violation of drug laws (either U.S. or foreign laws)
  • Controlled substance trafficking or familial relation to someone involved in controlled substance trafficking
  • Prostitution within 10 years of visa application date
  • Trafficking of persons
  • Money laundering
  • Severe violations of religious freedom committed as a foreign government official
  • Having two or more criminal convictions

A crime of moral turpitude is a reckless crime with evil intent that is contrary to the rules of morality of a society, such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, or aggravated assault.

Cannabis and inadmissibility

The rules on immigrants and possession of cannabis are worth noting, as they differ based on where you are. Although cannabis use is illegal at the federal level in the U.S., possessing less than 30 grams of it won't make you eligible for deportation. Possession of cannabis—of any amount—does make you inadmissible, however, and may prevent you from legally entering the U.S.

Will A Misdemeanor Make You Inadmissible?

Typically, felonies and serious crimes like those listed above constitute inadmissibility. But a misdemeanor conviction can block your entry into the U.S. in some instances as well. U.S. immigration authorities might not grant you entry if you committed a crime of moral turpitude. Under this definition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could deem your misdemeanor severe enough to bar your entry visa.

What is a crime of moral turpitude?

When defining a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT), USCIS admits that there is no statutory definition and relies instead on case law. USCIS does, however, have a general reference guide to help immigration officers evaluate CIMTs.

The four categories of CIMTs that could make you inadmissible to the U.S.

  • Crimes against a person: This type of crime includes criminal intent or recklessness and is morally reprehensible. An example could include statutory rape.
  • Crimes against property: This type of crime may involve fraud against the government or an individual. Examples are theft, forgery, or robbery.
  • Sexual and family crimes: Classification of sexual and family crimes as inadmissible differs case by case. Often, the use of violence is an important factor. Any sexual crime perpetrated against a minor almost always counts as a CIMT, and spousal abuse may count as well.
  • Crimes against the authority of the government: A crime involving fraud often constitutes moral turpitude for USCIS. Offering a bribe or counterfeiting are common examples.

This list of CIMTs isn't exhaustive, so you should always speak with an attorney for questions on whether your criminal conviction would constitute moral turpitude.

Can You Be Deported for a Criminal Conviction in the U.S.?

As a foreign national, any arrest or criminal conviction puts your immigration status at risk, whether you're already a permanent resident or in the process of applying for residency. In addition to making non-U.S. citizens inadmissible, CIMTs can make permanent residents or visa holders deportable as well. You may be deported if you're convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within five years of arriving in the U.S. or you have two or more CIMTs that did not arise from the same incident at any time after entering the U.S.

If you're facing deportation for a CIMT, you may be able to get a 212(h) waiver to apply for or renew a green card to prevent being deported.

Qualifications for a 212(h) waiver

  • Must not be a threat to national security
  • Must never have committed an aggravated felony (if you're a green card holder)
  • Must have lived continuously and lawfully in the U.S. for at least seven years (if you're a green card holder)

Crimes related to prostitution or committed 15 years prior only require a judge's approval for the waiver. If you've suffered physical or emotional abuse from a U.S. citizen or permanent resident under the Violence Against Women Act, you also only need a judge's approval for a waiver.

If you don't qualify for a judge's approval on the 212(h) waiver, then you must prove that deportation would put an extreme hardship on your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or family member.

Does a Criminal Conviction Prevent You from Getting U.S. Citizenship?

A criminal conviction may bar you from obtaining U.S. citizenship. Crimes that permanently bar you from naturalization are murder and aggravated felony (if you are convicted after November 29, 1990). The federal immigration authorities may not have the same definition of an aggravated felony as states do. For instance, USCIS may consider any crime of violence, theft, or burglary which led to one-year imprisonment an aggravated felony. Driving under the influence might be an aggravated felony in some cases, as well as resisting arrest.

Some crimes might only bar citizenship temporarily, usually between three to five years. These crimes may include hiring a prostitute, spending 180 days in jail, crimes of moral turpitude, and others.

A Pennsylvania Defense Attorney

If you're facing a threat to your immigration process or status because of a criminal record in Pennsylvania, a defense attorney can help you through the commonwealth's criminal justice system. Joseph D. Lento of Lento Law Firm is an experienced defense attorney who helps non-U.S. citizens in Pennsylvania dealing with criminal convictions. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 with your questions.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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