To the so many foreign nationals aspiring to acquire a U.S. visa to be able to work and live in the United States, one major obstacle that can keep their dream from becoming a reality is an arrest record. Government officials review visa and citizenship applications meticulously to make sure that no “inadmissible” applicants will set foot on US soil as they may be threats to others or to the nation’s peace and order.

Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.), which enumerates various kinds of crimes, past immigration violations, and communicable diseases, provides the grounds for inadmissibility. In reference to crimes, the following will render an applicant inadmissible, much more from acquiring a green card, despite the absence of an actual court conviction:

  • Crimes involving controlled substance violations (which includes possession of cocaine, marijuana or heroine) and moral turpitude. The meaning given to “crimes involving moral turpitude” (CIMT) is entrusted to courts, thus, the reason for the inconsistencies in interpretation. One sure common factor, though, is evil intent, which will surely put theft, fraud, murder and serious crimes of violence, in the list.
  • Human trafficking, drug trafficking, prostitution, kidnapping, money laundering, profiting financially from human trafficking activities (does not include children of traffickers), and multiple criminal convictions that is given a collective sentence of five years or more
  • Crimes indicated in Section 101(a)(15)(B) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) but wherein the offender has declared immunity from prosecution, left the US, and refused to surrender to to the authority of a U.S. court
  • Aggravated felony, such as sexual abuse of a minor, rape, serious theft and money laundering offenses and murder.

US immigration laws, however, have made some exceptions concerning CIMT and violations of laws on controlled substances, based on the following considerations:

  • The criminal was still a minor (under 18) when he/she committed the crime
  • Five years has passed since the crime was committed
  • The person is no longer in jail.


  • The penalty for the crime committed does not exceed a year and that the actual length of imprisonment does not go beyond six months (an exception called “petty offense”).

Foreign nationals, who have been convicted of a crime in the past but meet these conditions, may still be granted a green card.

Besides the complexities of the US Immigration laws, the website of the Law Office of William Jang, PLLC, says that immigrating and establishing citizenship in the US can be a long and difficult process; and it can still become more challenging if the applicant has a criminal record.

While a seasoned immigration attorney may be able to render valuable assistance with regard to immigration concerns, a highly-skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to provide the necessary help where applying for a “waiver” or legal forgiveness for the crime committed is the issue, especially if the crime was the applicant’s first offense.

Though it is true that a criminal conviction can forever change the life of person, the website of the Flaherty Defense Firm states that it does not have to be so, saying that one’s life should never be determined by the criminal charges that he/she is facing.