Will Prior Arrests Affect Your Green Card Application? What You Need To Know

  • Many people become US citizens, despite prior trouble with law enforcement. This is perfectly acceptable as the Immigration Act only requires 5 years of good moral character before filing for naturalization. In fact, if you are married to a US citizen, you need only show 3 years of good moral character. (Warning: Immigration can look at older acts but that’s one of a million reasons to find the best immigration lawyer! SEE BELOW)

    In real life, there is no stopping Immigration from reviewing your citizenship application because of arrests and offenses from long ago.

    It is very common for Immigration Service offices to implement policy without any formal guidance from Headquarters. For example, we were recently informed of a relatively new policy on citizenship and drug arrests. As immigration lawyers we practically live at the various Immigration district offices and hear of these new interpretations all the time. Immigration officers follow the instructions that they are given, which frequently change.

    Commonly Asked Questions Regarding Prior Arrests and Your Green Card Application:

    Can I renew my green card with a criminal record?

    Yes you can, but it will complicate things, and could stop you from getting your renewal. Every permanent resident must renew their green card, six months before expiration. If you have a criminal record before you get your green card it is possible, but you will have to jump through many hoops – see below. If you acquire a criminal record while you have your green card, you will have to go through more hoops. Some crimes will make you inadmissible for a green card, or a renewal.

    A criminal record can make you either inadmissible, or deportable. To understand the difference click here.

    Can US immigration see my criminal record?

    Yes, US immigration can see your current and past criminal records. Even if they’ve been expunged (or sealed), for the purposes of immigration they are still considered relevant. Depending on the crime, you may still be able to get into the US, and get a green card. It is very advisable to get a lawyer experienced in these kinds of cases if you want to ensure the best outcome.

    What if my criminal history is in another country?

    Certain crimes can make you inadmissible, even if they took place in another country. So even if you qualify for a green card or a visa, Immigration can refuse to let you in. There are waivers of inadmissibility for which you might qualify, however.

    Can you get a green card while on probation?

    Short answer: Yes.

  • BUT it may be very difficult to get a green card while on probation, not impossible. It depends on the crime, your past history, and in this case, again, it is highly recommended you get an experienced immigration lawyer.

    What happens if a Green Card holder commits a crime?

    Depending on the crime, you may be at risk of removal (deportation). Again, it all depends on the crime, your overall criminal history, and a host of other factors. If you commit a crime while in the U.S. with a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa, the government typically considers you to have violated the conditions of your visa. It may be possible to avoid deportation, but you must contact a skilled immigration attorney who understands criminal convictions in order to remain in the country. Remember, even if you face removal, you can also appeal your deportation order.

    Here is what you will likely need if you have had a prior arrest and are trying to get your green card:

    1. For any arrest for drugs that result in Pre Trial Intervention (or other alternative to conviction), you must provide proof that there was no plea of guilty.
    2. A disposition indicating the matter was dismissed might be insufficient.
    3. For any drug conviction (“conviction” for immigration purposes is a thorny topic, talk to a great immigration attorney) you will often be expected to provide dispositions, plea transcripts, police reports, lab reports and probation records.
    4. USCIS officers have even been advised that if applicants have old convictions and provide certified letters from agencies stating that their records no longer exist, the Immigration Officer is supposed to then ask for a letter from the defense attorney who represented the applicant in the criminal case attesting to the fact that the attorney has no records relating to the offense (!!!)

    Seems a bit extreme, right?

    Do yourself a BIG favor and consult with the best immigration lawyer you can find before filing for citizenship after arrests.

    And do the same thing before going near airports or any government agencies as the risk of deportation may be lurking in certain cases.

    If you have any questions about this or any other immigration-related issues, please feel free to contact one of us at Harlan York & Associates.

Written by: Harlan York

Immigration Attorney Harlan York is Former Chair, Immigration Section, NJ State Bar Association and Former Co-Chair, NY State Bar Association CFLS Immigration Committee. Mr. York appeared on National Television on CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Primer Impacto on Univision, as well as Telemundo, NBC, and PBS. He was honored as First Ever Immigration Lawyer of The Year in NJ by Best Lawyers.

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