Having a record of certain crimes can make a person
inadmissible to the United States – that is, ineligible to receive a visa or
green card (lawful permanent residence), regardless of whether they have
otherwise qualified for one.
Exactly which crimes or violations are a problem? The list
is contained in Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act or I.N.A.
Below is a brief summary of what that law says.
Please do not rely on this summary alone to analyze your case.
In fact, if you have been arrested for a crime and hope to obtain a U.S.
immigration benefit such as a green card, or you already have a crime on your
record, it will be essential for you to consult with an experienced immigration
attorney before going forward with your application.
Note: This article does not address security violations,
such as terrorism or espionage, which are also grounds of inadmissibility to the
Summary of Criminal Grounds of Inadmissibility
You become inadmissible to the U.S. if you have been
convicted of, admit to having committed, or admit having committed acts that
add up to the essential elements of one of the following:
- A crime involving moral turpitude (other than a
purely political offense) or attempting or conspiring to commit such a crime. Two
exceptions exist, including one for minors (under 18 years of age) who
committed the crime and were released from any prison or confinement more than
five years before applying for a visa or other benefit; and one for where the
maximum penalty possible for the person’s crime is less than one year’s
imprisonment, and the person was not, in fact, sentenced to more than six
- A violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to
violate) any controlled substance (drug) law, whether it’s a U.S. or foreign
- Multiple criminal convictions (two or more, other
than purely political offenses) for which the total, aggregate prison sentences
were five years or more. It doesn’t matter whether the conviction came from a
single trial or scheme of misconduct or from separate ones.
- Illicit trafficking in any controlled substance (drug).
No actual conviction is required for this one: It’s enough that the consular
officer or the Attorney General has reason to believe that you’ve been a
trafficker, or even a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator, or
colluder with others in illicit trafficking.
- Benefitting from illicit drug trafficking, by a
spouse, son, or daughter of the trafficker within the previous five years. This
means having obtained any financial or other benefit from such illicit
trafficking, while having known or reasonably should have known where the money
or other benefits came from.
- Prostitution and commercialized vice. This
applies to people who will or have engaged in prostitution (within ten years of
applying for a visa or other immigration benefit), as well as to those involved
in procuring prostitutes or who receiving proceeds from prostitution, as well
as to anyone coming to the United States to engage in any other unlawful
- Involvement in serious criminal activity, where
the person has asserted immunity from prosecution, departed the United States
as a result, and not subsequently submitted to the jurisdiction of the relevant
- Particularly severe violations of religious
freedom while serving as a foreign government official.
- Human trafficking, whether inside or outside the
United States; or apparently being a knowing aider, abettor, assister,
conspirator, or colluder with such a trafficker in severe forms of trafficking
- Benefitting from human trafficking, by a spouse,
son, or daughter of the trafficker, within the previous five years, where the
person knew or reasonably should have known where the money or other benefits came
from. There is an exception for a son or daughter who was a child at the time
he or she received the benefit.
- Laundering of monetary instruments; or
apparently being a knowing aider, abettor, assister, conspirator, or colluder
with others in money laundering.
Waivers Available for Some Crimes
Not all crimes are an absolute bar to inadmissibility. In
some cases, you may apply to the decision-maker on your case for a waiver
(legal forgiveness) allowing you to go forward with your application. The
available waivers are described in Section 212(h) of the I.N.A.
Waivers may be available for crimes of moral turpitude; multiple
criminal convictions; prostitution and procurement of prostitutes; and
assertions of immunity from prosecution, as well as drug violations that involved
a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana. In
order to qualify for the waiver, the applicant will need to persuade the
authorities of all of the following:
Either the violation involved prostitution, or it took place
more than 15 years before the date of the alien's application for a visa,
admission, or adjustment of status.
Admitting the applicant to the United States of such alien
would not be contrary to the national welfare, safety, or security of the
See Filing for an I-192 Waiver: "Forgiveness" of U.S. Inadmissibility for information on getting one of these waivers.