Individuals who are pursuing permanent resident status may be deterred if they are convicted of a crime. While a misdemeanor conviction may not bar a person from still obtaining resident status, certain convictions may prevent a person from being approved for permanent residence status or possible cause the person to be subject to removal.
In most cases, crimes that involve illegal drugs make an individual inadmissible. This includes possessing a certain amount of cocaine, heroin, marijuana or other drugs.
Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
If you were convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, you may be inadmissible. Congress did not define moral turpitude, so courts have reached different conclusions regarding which offenses qualify as these types of crimes. Generally, crimes involving moral turpitude include fraud, murder, stealing, domestic violence or severe violence. Moving violations, parking violations, some forms of assault, some forms of battery and DUI with no aggravating factors are not usually considered to be crimes involving moral turpitude.
The Immigration and Nationality Act specifies certain crimes that will make an individual inadmissible. For example, some listed crimes include terrorism, kidnapping, human trafficking, money laundering and prostitution. Additionally, a person is generally inadmissible if he or she has multiple criminal convictions that, when combined, result in a sentence of five years or more. USCIS also has the discretion to deny a green card application for other crimes, such as if the person committed an aggravated felony, such as rape, sexual abuse of a minor, certain money laundering offenses or murder.
In determining whether your crime will be one that will disqualify you from obtaining a green card, your immigration attorney will want to know how old you were when you committed the crime, the number of convictions you have, the facts involved in the case, the name of the offense, the sentence you received and the maximum amount of time that you could have received. Your attorney can use this information to assess how your criminal conviction compares to the crimes discussed in the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Even if a person would otherwise be inadmissible, there may be exceptions. For example, a person may have one conviction for a misdemeanor that is classified as a crime involving moral turpitude if the sentence was six months or shorter is one such exception. If the individual applying for a green card committed the crime when he or she was a minor, is no longer in jail and five years have transpired since the offense, he or she may be able to qualify for an exception. The petty offense exception is available for individuals who have been convicted of a crime for which the maximum penalty is no longer than a year and the amount of time that they were actually imprisoned was for less than six months.
Other individuals who are considered to be inadmissible may be able to retain their lawful status or acquire permanent resident status by filing a waiver. A waiver is a provision of law that allows USCIS to waive your criminal conviction if you can show that not doing so will cause an extreme hardship on your spouse or parent who is an American citizen or permanent resident.
About Misdemeanor Offenses
Even if you were convicted of a misdemeanor, you may not be eligible for permanent resident status. Immigration laws may classify the conviction in a different manner than the criminal code in the jurisdiction where you were convicted.
Course of Action
If you have been convicted of a crime and would like to know how the conviction will likely affect your immigration status, it is important that you discuss this information with an experienced immigration lawyer. If possible, obtain a court disposition slip that provides detailed information about your conviction and sentence so that you can provide this to your immigration attorney before your consultation with an attorney. Be sure that you follow this process for all of your convictions. Before you are approved for a green card, USCIS will require that you attend a biometrics appointment in which your fingerprints will be taken. Your fingerprint card will be sent to the FBI, which will create a report that it provides to USCIS that includes all of your arrests and convictions. Therefore, it is important that you are upfront with your attorney so that he or she can properly plan how to work your case.