How will a criminal conviction affect my immigration status?

Maybe it was a single mistake made years ago, or maybe a recent arrest. Whatever the situation that has you asking whether or not a criminal conviction could impact immigration status know that this is a very good question and, unfortunately, one that does not have an easy answer. The fact is the answer often depends on a variety of factors, including your current immigration status, the type of crime and the circumstances around the alleged wrongdoing that led to conviction.

Although a clear answer is not available, there is information that can help you to better understand where your situation may likely fall. The following will help you to get a better idea of what you may face on your road to citizenship.

Will the U.S. immigration see my criminal record?

Your first question is likely along the lines of “will they even know?” The answer is yes, the government will find out about a criminal record. Anyone wishing to immigrate to the United States is subject to a background check. Government officials conduct the background check both at the initial entry as well as when looking to change your immigration status. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will require this check in order to move forward with the immigration process in either situation. This includes a fingerprint check. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will use this information to look into whether there is a record of any administrative or criminal offenses.

This information is gathered and stored in different ways. If, for example, you were fingerprinted and photographed after an arrest, the enforcement officer will enter that information into a federal database called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The FBI will then see this information during the background check.

It is also important to note that a background check is only good for a certain period of time, generally 15 months. After this time expires, the government requires a new, more recent check before moving forward with the immigration process.

Will a misdemeanor affect my immigration status?

A criminal conviction can result in a downgrade of your immigration status or potential deportation. In some situations, a misdemeanor can have a negative impact on your immigration status. This is especially true if it qualifies as a crime of moral turpitude. These types of crimes are those that go against the moral standards generally accepted within the community. Examples have included crimes of tax evasion, carrying a concealed weapon, fraud and perjury. The exact list can vary by state.

As noted above, your immigration status at the time of the conviction will impact the government’s decision. Whether the government moves forward with deportation or reduction of immigration status is often subject to judicial discretion.

Can I still file for citizenship with a criminal record?

A criminal record can cause problems for those looking to get a green card or citizenship within the United States, but there is still hope. One option is the 212(h) waiver. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 212(h) provides a waiver or a way to work around a criminal conviction. This waiver is useful both in the affirmative, for those who are seeking citizenship, and as part of a defense strategy, for those who are fighting the threat of deportation.

An attorney experienced in the interplay of immigration and criminal law can help you look into this and other options, and can help you navigate the process, working with you to better ensure a more favorable outcome.