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Am I still Eligible for a Green Card if I have a Criminal Record?

Updated: May 31, 2023

Will a Criminal Record Affect my Green Card Eligibility?

Am I still Eligible for a Green Card if I have a Criminal Record?

There are several requirements and criteria for eligibility to apply for a green card that an individual needs to meet. An important part of the green card eligibility process deals with the applicant’s social utility. An applicant’s social utility is determined by analyzing several factors of their life. Most importantly though, it is speculated by the United States government via questions regarding your criminal history. This part of the application process can be stressful when the applicant is an individual who has a criminal record, because of the fear that it will lead to an immediate denial. However, this is not entirely the case: a criminal record alone does not make it impossible for an applicant to obtain a green card. Here is why.

What is the Tolerance Standard for Criminal Activity on my Record?

Eligibility for a green card will depend on the extent of your criminal record, but more specially, it will depend on the seriousness of the crimes that you have committed. ​​According to U.S. immigration law, the types of criminal convictions that will make you inadmissible and prevent you from obtaining a green card are crimes involving “moral turpitude” and controlled substances violations.

“Moral turpitude” is subject to interpretation, and has been defined as referring to crimes committed with evil and malicious intent. Examples of such crimes include theft, fraud, money laundering, murder, kidnapping, rape/sexual abuse, and human trafficking.

Examples of controlled substances violations are crimes involving illegal drugs (such as marijuana, cocaine, heroine, etc.). This includes convictions for either drug use, possession, trafficking, and/or distribution.

Are there any Exceptions?

However, there are some exceptions to both of the previously mentioned categories. Whether an exception will be made is dependent on factors of the crime including the length of the record, the offender’s age, the actual time they did for the crime, how many times they’ve been charged for that crime or a crime of that nature, and how long it has been since it occurred. Other low-level crimes, such as traffic tickets and violations, DUI’s, joyriding, breaking and entering, and simple assault and battery convictions are more likely to be acceptable (less likely to get your application denied).

What if I have already “Expunged” my Criminal Record?

Many states in the United States allow “expungement.” Expungement refers to a proceeding in which a person’s criminal record is sealed or destroyed. In other words, (usually first time) offenders’s criminal convictions become “nonexistent” and unavailable to the general public. Many individuals will consult a criminal defense attorney to help them go through this process when they are trying to pursue jobs and careers in fields that require a clean background. For the most part, expungement works and is commonly done. However, for the purposes of United States immigration law, these convictions are never actually “cleared” or “removed.” Your criminal record will still exist and it will be disclosed to the federal government. Therefore, a serious criminal record can still prevent an applicant from being granted a green card.

Answering Criminal History Questions

If an individual with a criminal record decides to go ahead and apply anyway, they must be careful. They must be sure to answer everything truthfully, no matter how bad it may look as a “yes or no” question answer and provide additional information with details where appropriate. The USCIS forms often provide extra space for you to explain the details and particulars of a “yes” answer to the commission of a crime. If you decide to lie on an application, you may be deemed ineligible and denied your green card application even if the crime you committed and concealed itself would not have been the reason. Lying to the United States government will result in a denial, regardless of how serious the crime that you concealed and failed to disclose was. Make sure to include all crimes as well as crimes that, if any, you committed outside of the United States as well. All of the information in a green card application should be entirely truthful. It is better to overinclude rather than underinclude.

Can I Waive Inadmissibility based on my Criminal Record?

Individuals are allowed to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility to excuse their criminal history, for some crimes, if they can prove that, during their stay in the United States, they would not endanger anyone and their spouse (that is either a U.S. citizen or green card holder) would experience extreme hardship without you living in the country with them. However, waivers are entirely impossible if an individual has been convicted of murder or torture.

Contact Us

Determining whether a crime will affect your green card eligibility is one of the more complex areas of immigration law and can be very overwhelming. A criminal record can complicate your green card application but it does not always lead to a denial. If you have any doubts about how your criminal record could affect your green card application, you should contact MK Legal Group. MK Legal Group’s extensive experience with helping immigrants with criminal records file the appropriate forms to apply for VISAs and green cards, combined with our profound knowledge of the United States’ immigration law and policies is here to help. Our legal skills and expertise will help you with the application for the VISA granting process. Contact us online, or call us at 1(855)658-2545 to schedule a consultation regarding your case.

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