If you want to get a green card from inside the U.S. or abroad, the important thing to note is that according to the U.S. immigration law, a large portion of your immigration application will be dedicated to your criminal history questions.
The criminal convictions of violent or dangerous crime are a potential bar to obtaining permanent resident status. This rule in the immigration law is based on a legal concept known as “inadmissibility” tha are according to the Immigration and Nationality Act INA specifies crimes that will make an individual inadmissible for the green card. Also, you can be placed in removal proceedings or face deportation proceedings even if you have a green card.
However, not all criminal offenses apply to this rule, especially minor crimes.
An applicant applying for a green card with a criminal record ccan overcome even more serious crimes by getting a waiver, but on the other side some categories of offenses are absolute bars to receiving a green card without the option to use the waiver.
Here we will review types of crimes concerning most green card applicants, but in case you have any concerns, it is best to contact an immigration attorney and not act on your own.
What Is A “conviction” in The U.S. Immigration Law?
Under U.S. immigration law, a conviction is broader than a conviction under U.S. criminal law.
“Conviction” in the immigration context refers to any outcome when you were found guilty by an immigration judge or plead guilty.
Criminal Record in the U.S. Immigration Law
Both convictions committed inside of the U.S. or outside count equally when USCIS do the criminal background check and assess whether you are admissible.
Not all offenses in your criminal record will make you ineligible for a green card. According to United States immigration law, three types of criminal convictions will make you inadmissible:
- Aggravated felonies
- Crimes involving “moral turpitude.”
- Crimes involving illegal drugs
When inside the U.S.
If you’re applying for permanent residence from inside the U.S., there are several questions about criminal history to answer on your Form I-485, Application to Adjust Status. There are about 20 questions related to criminal history to answer.
You must go to a biometrics appointment where you will have your fingerprints taken. The results may reveal your arrest history and the final disposition of any criminal case on your record.
When outside the U.S.
If you are outside the U.S., you will go through a green card process through consular processing at a U.S. embassy or the U.S. consulate, and you’ll need to answer the same questions on online Form DS-260, the “Immigrant Visa Application.”
The questions will mainly focus on drugs, human trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, and other crimes.
If you are applying for a green card from outside the U.S., you might have to obtain a police certificate detailing your criminal history in the country.
How Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Scrutinizes The Green Card Application?
The U.S. government has various ways to determine whether a green card applicant has a criminal record.
Any encounter with law enforcement or proof of past criminal offenses, even without an arrest or conviction, can pose serious issues for a green card applicant.
As a part of the green card process, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will check for criminal records for:
- The U.S. citizen or a green card holder sponsoring their family member
- The family member applying for a green card.
USCIS will look for your criminal records involving a criminal conviction, an arrest, or anything else that indicates that you were involved in a criminal act, with one exception.
USICS will not consider the minor traffic violations as a potential reason for denial.
Who Will Be Examined?
The adjustment of the status process is for people already living in the U.S., usually with lawful immigration status. Applicants living abroad typically obtain U.S. residence via “consular processing.”
However, both types of green card applicants will be examined for any criminal record, resulting in inadmissibility to the U.S. if the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services finds out they committed any criminal offense.
What Immigration authorities Want to Know About My Criminal Charges?
The U.S. government can learn about your criminal record through your statements and admissions in the application process.
Also, they may ask you about events in your life during the green card interview with law enforcement officer.
Remember, when filling out your green card application, it’s essential to be honest.
If you try to lie on an immigration form and government officials find it out, it can make you ineligible for a green card no matter how severe a criminal offense is.
The immigration officials can learn about your criminal record through your statements and admissions in the application process.
Through the immigration forms, the U.S. government will ask you to list any arrests and/or convictions you might have had. Also, they may ask you about events in your life during the green card interview with U.S. government officials.
What to Do If You Have Criminal History?
If you have a criminal history, it’s essential to read each of these questions carefully and be honest about it in the appropriate place when applying for a green card.
If you answer any of the questions in the forms with “yes,” you’ll need to provide additional information. You should give details on when and where you were cited, arrested, charged, or convicted and how the case was ultimately resolved.
It’s essential to back up this information with official documents and prove that you accurately describe your criminal record.
Documents to Support Criminal Records:
Documents that can support the applicant’s criminal record may include:
- Statements from the police department where you were arrested or cited
- Copies of any charges made against you
- Discharge or expungement records
- Documents showing the final disposition of your case
An arrest or an accusation (eventually dismissed) will not make you ineligible for a green card ar other immigration benefit. Still, it is essential to be honest about all arrests or charges in your past. In this way, you can avoid being ineligible for a green card because of lying to the government.
There are several conviction types such as aggravated felonies, crimes involving moral turpitude, and drug crimes that are we are going to explain in more details here.
Under U.S. immigration laws, aggravated felony conviction is a reason for the denial of the green card application. This crime will make you ineligible to get a green card.
“Aggravated felony” for immigration law purposes comprises a list of crimes:
- Drug trafficking
- Filing a false tax return
- Sexual abuse of a minor, child pornography
- Money laundering
Crimes involving moral turpitude
Moral turpitude is a “conduct considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.”
USCIS doesn’t need a formal arrest nor immigration courts conviction to deny permanent resident status application on crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) grounds.
The following are only the main categories, but the list of acts and crimes considered of moral turpitude is long:
- Intent to cause personal harm or destruction of property or things.
The U.S. government can consider even lying on an immigrant visa application involving moral turpitude and a crime.
Two crimes of moral turpitude automatically result in visa denial and make the foreigner inadmissible to the U.S. and ineligible for a green card.
A “crime of moral turpitude” refers to any crime committed with “evil intent.” USCIS and the immigration court can decide what actions cause intent to defraud someone or inflict bodily harm. This is a very subjective category.
In most circumstances, the following crimes are not considered crimes of moral turpitude:
- Simple Assault
Drug Related Crime
Any criminal conviction related to drugs can make you ineligible to receive U.S. lawful permanent residence, no matter whether it was the conviction only for possession of drugs, drug use, or drug trafficking convictions.
There is one exception stated in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA): if you have only one drug conviction, and it was for possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana for personal use, you would still need to apply for a waiver.
All other drug crimes convictions will likely make you ineligible for receiving permanent residence status.
Criminal Convictions Committed In Another Country
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If you have criminal history in a foreign country, there are two possibilities depending on whether the crime is equivalent to an “aggravated felony,” “crime of moral turpitude,” or “drug crime” under U.S. immigration.
- If the crime is an equivalent criminal conviction under the foreign country’s laws, the standards of inadmissibility (and possible waivers) are the same.
- If it isn’t equivalent, you will have to argue it clearly and persuasively as part of the immigration application. Note that there is no guarantee that USCIS will agree with your arguments.
Getting the Waiver
In some instances, you can apply for a waive your criminal conviction. If approved, the waiver will excuse your criminal history. But you have to show that your admission to the U.S. would not endanger anyone.
Also, you must prove that your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse would experience “extreme hardship” if you get the denial. In this context, extreme hardship is hard to prove, but it is not impossible.
However, some crimes cannot be excused with a waiver. Especially waivers are strictly impossible for conviction of murder or torture.
When filing a green card application from inside the U.S., you can file the waiver request with your green card application in two ways:
- With your green card application
- While waiting for the green card to be processed
- At the interview
The best option is to file a waiver request with your green card application so that it can be processed at the same time as your visa application.
If you’re outside the U.S. at the time of filing, you have to apply for a waiver during your green card interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate.
How An Immigration Attorney Can Help You Get A Green Card?
If you want to apply for a green card, but have committed crimes in your past that could make you inadmissible, having an experienced immigration attorney to help you understand the U.S. immigration law, go through immigration process and deal with different complex scenarios that can arise can be a huge advantage.
Any mistake in your green card application and breach of immigration law can affect your petition and prevent you from getting a green card.
Moreover, getting a green card with a criminal record can make a rough path on your immigration journey.
Herman Legal Group law firm has over 26 years of immigration experience with one of the most experienced attorneys in immigration laws who offer quality immigration services.
You can schedule a consultation with an immigration attorney via Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, or Facetime, or you can decide to visit our law firm to discuss your case. You can contact us via +1-216-696-6170. If you prefer to speak with the immigration lawyer Richard Herman, you can also book your consultation online.