Can You Get a Green Card if You Have a Criminal Record?

Immigration law is complicated. If you need help with consular processing, you should contact a skilled lawyer,
such as Michael G. Murray, PC for advice.

What Is a Green Card?


A green card is an official card that allows the holder to permanently live and work within the U.S. It is granted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to eligible individuals.

An individual can be eligible for a green card through a family member or spouse who is a permanent resident or an unmarried child of a lawful permanent citizen. You can also obtain a green card through the green card lottery or other immigration processes.

However, certain circumstances might jeopardize your chances of obtaining a green card, such as if you’ve been convicted of serious offenses. If this is your situation, and you’d like to begin the process of getting a green card, a naturalization & citizenship lawyer might be able to help.

Can You Get a Green Card if You Have a Criminal Record?


It is possible to get a green card with a criminal history. However, your chances may depend on if the type of crime you have been convicted of is permissible under United States immigration law.

Serious crimes can prevent you from becoming a lawful permanent resident leading to deportation. In contrast, your chances of getting a green card could be higher with other ‘lesser’ crimes like minor traffic violations and minor criminal charges involving moral turpitude (except for murder and sexual abuse).

If you’re a foreign national facing criminal charges in the United States, you would likely benefit from the help of a criminal immigration lawyer. Criminal immigration lawyers can help you avoid criminal convictions that could be detrimental to your green card application.

Who Determines if You are Eligible for a Green Card With a Criminal Record?

The USCIS determines your eligibility for a green card upon your application. The USCIS will run a criminal background check on the beneficiary of the green card and the sponsor. They would probably be interested in foreign and domestic criminal convictions.

Answer all criminal history questions on the immigration form honestly, no matter how minor your arrests, charges, or convictions may seem. Also, mention even those convictions that were dismissed since some might still appear on your criminal record. Failure to mention any criminal offense on your application form may amount to immigration fraud.

If you are unsure about what is expected of you and your sponsor when applying for a green card, an experienced immigration lawyer in Austin is a good resource.

What Criminal Convictions Affect Your Chances of Getting a Green Card?


Under U.S. immigration laws, not all crimes and convictions affect your eligibility to obtain permanent residence. However, if your crime falls in either of the following categories, your green card application would likely be rejected. They include serious crimes including:

  • Aggravated felonies
  • Illegal drug involvement
  • Crimes involving moral turpitude.

Aggravated Felony

You may be barred from applying for a green card if you’ve been convicted of a dangerous crime under United States federal law. Among the serious criminal convictions that are considered aggravated felonies are:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Child pornography or sexual abuse of a minor
  • Filing invalid tax returns
  • Money laundering
  • Drug and human trafficking.

Crime of Moral Turpitude

Crimes of moral turpitude involve offenses that are shocking, vile, and go against established societal norms. Such crimes include murder, animal abuse, intention to cause personal harm, destruction of personal property, fraud, rape, and arson. However, crimes like joyriding, simple assault, and breaking personal property without causing harm are usually not treated as crimes of moral turpitude.

Crimes Involving Illegal Drugs

Any conviction associated with drugs (more than 30 grams of any controlled substance) can ruin your chance of attaining United States permanent resident status. Drug convictions entail drug trafficking, possession of controlled substances, and possessing drugs for personal use.

What Should I Do to Get a Green Card if I Have a Criminal Record?


Green cards may be denied to you if you commit certain crimes, but others may require some legal intervention. Under section 212(h) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, you may need to apply for a waiver if you are a green card applicant with criminal convictions.

A waiver basically ‘forgives’ certain criminal convictions that may have prevented you from obtaining a green card. You can apply for a criminal immigration waiver by completing and filing immigration form I-601.

Conditions for a Criminal Immigration Waiver

To receive a waiver, green card applicants with criminal records may need to establish certain conditions, including the following:

  • The crime took place at least fifteen years before the application and granting a green card to the applicant will not compromise American security or safety
  • In the case of a prostitution-related conviction, the applicant has been rehabilitated
  • That denial would cause extreme hardship to the green card holder or the citizen sponsoring the applicant
  • That the applicant qualifies as a self-petitioner under the Violence Against Women Act

Murder, drug trafficking, and money laundering convictions do not qualify for waivers. No matter where the crime and conviction occurred, in most cases the level of ineligibility is the same as if the crime was committed and the conviction was obtained in the United States.

Before getting a criminal background check, discuss your criminal history with an experienced immigration attorney for legal advice. This information might be helpful before you apply for a green card.

Get Help From Reputable Immigration Attorneys in Austin


Whether you have questions about the immigration process or your green card application, or if you are unsure of your eligibility status, the law firm of Michael G. Murray, P.A. can assist. With our legal skills and experience, we can represent you throughout the green card application process and work toward a positive outcome for you.

Our services include waiver applications, deportation defense, asylum, visa applications, and related matters. Contact us today and let us help you get started as you work towards obtaining lawful permanent residence in the United States.

Coronavirus update: We are safely open for business! USCIS is still accepting new filings for all applications. Our office is offering virtual consultations for new clients so that you don't have to come to our office in person. Call us to schedule your virtual meeting today.
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