Criminal History Information to Disclose on an Immigration Application

If you’re applying for a visa, Green Card or citizenship, there is a lot of information you’ll have to disclose about yourself. Much of the information will have little effect on whether your application is accepted and approved. But some information can make all the difference. This is especially true with your criminal past, assuming you have one. At bottom, you cannot lie or make misrepresentations to agents of the United States Government. You cannot falsify records and applications. Doing any of this will potentially result in criminal charges. What you can, and should do, however, is consult with an immigration attorney before filling out any paperwork or speaking with any representative of the United States Government to best ensure what you say is proper and completed in a manner that is accurate and leaves Federal authorities with the most favorable view of you and your application.

Again, when it comes to your criminal history, it’s critical to report it accurately and completely. This includes providing any necessary documentation regarding how the arrest, charge, conviction, etc. was handled by the court such as a Certificate of Disposition. But doing this isn’t always simple or straightforward. That’s where the services of an experienced immigration attorney can not only be extremely helpful, but essential to the potential success of your immigration application.

Overarching Principle: Protecting the United States

The office of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is tasked with processing and administering immigration services and benefits. In carrying out these tasks, the USCIS must also work to protect the United States’ borders and national security. One way it does this is by checking the criminal history of applicants who desire citizenship or permanent residency status, as well those who want entry into the United States.

The USCIS isn’t looking to reject immigrants from entering or living in the United States on a legal technicality or because of a minor mistake with the law that will not be repeated. But the USCIS doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, so it relies in large part on the applicant to truthfully and completely divulge all criminal history information in order to make the best determination possible.

What Needs to Be Divulged on a Given Application?

Practically speaking, given the broad wording of the criminal history questions when applying for a visa, Green Card or to become a US citizen, the applicant will need to disclose any convictions, as well as any relevant arrests or charges, even if they didn’t lead to a conviction. The general rule of thumb is to err on the side of providing more information if there is any doubt. An applicant’s failure to disclose necessary information can make it appear as though the applicant is hiding something and is dishonest, even if the failure to disclosure is simply an incorrect interpretation of what the question is asking. However, things get slightly more complicated when dealing with juvenile records or records that are sealed or expunged.

Juvenile Criminal Records

Juvenile convictions are usually not examined by the USCIS as long as it’s been more than five years since the conviction and the applicant hasn’t committed another crime since then. However, those who have a juvenile disposition, even if doesn’t result in a conviction, can still face removal or being deemed inadmissible since it may provide the immigration official “reason to believe” that a certain criminal offense has taken place, such as drug trafficking. This is especially notable since it can result in a permanent bar to obtaining lawful status as United States resident.

Sealed or Expunged Criminal Records

For the most part, sealing or expunging an applicant’s criminal history has little effect with respect to immigration. Exactly how a criminal history is sealed or expunged may depend on the state where it takes place. Most of the time, it allows an individual’s criminal history to show up as clean for simple background checks that an employer or landlord might run. But the USCIS will often be able to see a conviction even if it’s been expunged or sealed. And if they see this after the applicant denied having a conviction, this can make the applicant look dishonest to the USCIS or other immigration official. It should be abundantly clear that a misrepresentation such as this can doom your immigration application. As such, consult with your criminal attorney and immigration lawyer before answering these types of questions.

The Effect a Criminal History will have on Immigration Status

There are few definite rules concerning the exact effect a criminal event will have on an applicant’s chances for successfully applying for a visa, adjustment of status or citizenship. The ultimate decision is up to the discretion of the immigration office. There are many variables that affect the decision, including:

  • The disposition of a criminal event
  • When the criminal event took place
  • The severity of the criminal sentence
  • How old the applicant was when committing the crime
  • What the applicant is applying for
  • The nature of the crime
  • The presence of any other criminal histories
If I have a Criminal History, What Can I Do?

Since there’s a lot of room for interpretation, it’s strongly recommended that you hire an immigration attorney to review your situation and assist you with your immigration matters.

Not only can an immigration attorney help you determine what affect your criminal history will have on your ability to get an adjustment of status, Green Card, visa or citizenship, but they can help you get a waiver. Waivers are available to individuals who may be denied entry into the United States, removed or otherwise deemed inadmissible and allow them to live in or enter the country anyway. Often, a waiver request can be submitted at the same time as the immigration application.

Additionally, an immigration attorney can help you with the production of supporting documentation concerning criminal dispositions, such as convictions and certification of case disposition. Certified copies of your criminal records will be needed to show how and when certain criminal proceedings were finalized.

Your Immigration Application – Your Future

Blatant misrepresentations, “white lies”, incomplete information, or willful ignorance on an immigration application can doom your status in the United States and, by default, tear at the fabric of your family, schooling or employment in America. Don’t expect or hope that you may get numerous opportunities to get it right. Take the correct action today and retain an immigration attorney at Crotty Saland PC to put you in the best place to successfully complete your immigration application and prepare you for each step in the immigration process.

Call the New York immigration lawyers and former New York City prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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