Everything You Need to Know About the Green Card Criminal Record Check
How the Green Card Criminal Record Check May Impact Your Immigration Status
A green card is an immigrant visa that grants a foreign-born person lawful permanent resident status in the United States.
Although the U.S. welcomes eligible immigrants to apply for this coveted visa, getting a green card involves a strict and extensive review of the applicant’s criminal record to ensure that their permanent presence will only benefit the nation.
The U.S. immigration law requires green card applicants to disclose all criminal convictions, including those that may have been expunged or cleared. Although you may have been told by your immigration criminal attorney or a law enforcement officer that you don’t have to do that in other procedures, disclosing all information is mandatory.
The U.S. government has many different ways to determine the person’s criminal history submitting an immigration application, depending on whether they are applying from the United States (adjustment of status) or outside of the U.S. (consular processing).
This section can be discouraging for those who have had legal trouble in the past. However, when armed with knowledge and a solid legal team, you may have options.
On the other hand, some criteria will help in your process of getting a green card, such as good moral behavior for the last five years before your green card application. If you are applying based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, that period is shortened to 3 years.
We go over everything you need to know about your criminal record check in this guide. You’ll learn what criminal offenses could lead to denial, how you should fill out your application when you have a criminal record, and more.
What’s Included in the Criminal Record Check for Us Green Card?
The U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for running a criminal record check for U.S. green card applications.
The agency runs criminal history checks on both the applicant and their sponsor. When running these checks, immigration officials look for criminal records involving a criminal conviction, an arrest, or anything else that indicates that you were involved in a criminal act. Note that even if you did not commit a crime but plead guilty in a criminal case, this will count against you in your green card interview.
As part of the process, applicants need to submit documentation depending on their situation. For instance, if you are applying from within the U.S., you must submit police records.
Be sure to obtain criminal records even if the arrests happened when you were younger, did not lead to a conviction, a judge expunged them from your history, etc. In most cases, you will not need to provide documentation for minor traffic violations.
If you’re unsure what kind of arrests or criminal history questions you need to report, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced immigration attorney like Michael G. Murray, P.A.
Obtaining a Police Clearance Certificate for Green Card
If you’re applying from abroad, you must submit a police clearance certificate for green card applications. This documentation details your arrests and their outcomes in your prior countries of residence.
To get a police certificate to apply for U.S. permanent resident status, you will need to contact the appropriate issuing authority in the country or countries where you’ve lived.
If you have been convicted abroad of a criminal offense, talk to a criminal defense immigration attorney. It can be challenging to determine the impact of that conviction on your green card application. Your conviction will have to be compared to the U.S. laws to find the most similar crime to the one committed before figuring out whether you are eligible for a green card application.
Can I Get a Green Card if I Have a Criminal Offense Record?
If you’ve run into trouble with the law in the past, you may wonder, “Can I get a green card if I have a criminal record?” The answer is, it depends.
Three types of convictions will make you inadmissible, meaning you can’t get a green card:
- Conviction of an aggravated felony
- Conviction of Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
- Conviction of a Controlled Substance Violation
In the context of immigration law purposes, a “conviction” can include any instance in which an immigration judge found you guilty or you admitted guilt through a plea bargain.
Conviction of an Aggravated Felony
The term “aggravated felony” is relatively broad, but any violent or dangerous crime will usually fall under this category. It applies to crimes as serious as murder, rape, child pornography, sexual abuse of a minor, certain fraud-related offense types, drug trafficking, etc. However, it can also refer to other crimes that involve gambling or low-level drug offenses.
Conviction of Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
This term refers to a criminal offense that someone committed with “evil intent,” meaning they were trying to harm someone. It’s a broad conviction classification as immigration courts have had different rulings on various cases.
While murder and rape follow this category, charges involving fraud or animal abuse may also qualify. Most courts will not consider a criminal conviction for simple assault, joyriding, or breaking and entering as aggravated felonies crimes involving moral turpitude in an immigration context.
Criminal convictions for a crime of moral turpitude such as fraud, murder, or rape will make you inadmissible, and that disqualifies you from applying for a U.S. lawful permanent residence.
Conviction of a Controlled Substance Violation
Any drug-related crime or controlled substance violation can make you inadmissible, even if the charge was for possession or personal use.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) puts forth one exception for crimes involving drugs. However, you must have only one drug conviction charge that involved less than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use to qualify.
But, even in that case, you would have to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility. That practically means you are asking the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that they don’t make your criminal conviction a barrier to getting your green card or lawful permanent residence.
Can a Green Card Holder Go to Jail?
If you’re a green card holder, it is essential to know that your permanent residence status can be revoked if you are convicted of an aggravated felony or a crime involving “moral turpitude,” such as fraud and perjury.
You will then have to leave the country and apply for reentry. This process can take years and may require multiple trips back to the U.S, depending on how long ago you were admitted into the country in lawful permanent resident status.
It is also possible that even if your criminal conviction was not considered as an “aggravated felony” at sentencing but later determined by immigration authorities to be one after all appeals have been exhausted, your permanent residence could still be revoked. In this case, too, there would likely need to be multiple trips to the U.S before being able to return permanently with a new immigrant visa (green card).
To help protect your rights, always talk to an immigration attorney before you plead guilty or no contest to criminal charges. This is important because if you do this before to an attorney first, and if deportation could happen as a result of your plea, then you might not be able to come back legally into the U.S without special permission from the USCIS. And it is hard for someone to get this permission.
Call us today for an attorney-client relationship so we can help protect your rights.
How to Get a Green Card With a Criminal Record
Wondering how to get a green card with a criminal record? Perhaps the most important thing is to be honest with your immigration application.
Form I-485 and Form DS-260 both ask questions about your criminal history. They focus on questions related to illegal drugs, money laundering, human trafficking, prostitution, etc. Please read each question carefully and accurately provide information on where and when it happened, the final disposition of the case, etc. To support your answers, you will need to provide the documentation that we detailed earlier.
Whatever you do, don’t lie or withhold information because you are afraid of denial. These actions could end up serving as grounds for denial, even if the crimes you don’t report did not make you inadmissible. In addition, if you come to the U.S. for your green card interview and your application is denied because of a criminal conviction, you can be placed into removal proceedings.
If you have any criminal history, your best bet is to contact an immigration lawyer before subjecting yourself to a criminal background check. With legal advice from a reputable immigration law firm, you can determine what you need to report and collect as the necessary documentation under U.S. immigration laws.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Background Check for Green Card
On a USCIS background check for green card applications, the agency will look for the criminal convictions we mentioned earlier (aggravated felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, and relevant drug offenses). If the agency deems you inadmissible for a green card, you may be able to apply for a waiver.
A request for a waiver of inadmissibility must show that your residence in the U.S. would not put anyone in danger. You must also prove that your spouse (who must be a U.S. citizen or a green card holder) would face “extreme hardship” if you couldn’t live in the U.S.
Although many crimes can make you inadmissible, the mere fact that you have been convicted of an aggravated felony doesn’t automatically mean you are barred from receiving a green card.
Also, note that certain criminal records are not eligible for waivers under U.S. immigration law. For instance, if you have a murder or rape conviction, you will remain inadmissible. Unless it qualifies under the INA exception mentioned earlier, you cannot get a waiver for drug trafficking convictions (unless it qualifies under the INA exception mentioned earlier).
What is Waiver of Inadmissibility?
If you are not allowed to enter the U.S., it may be possible to obtain a waiver that will enable you to come into the country legally. A waiver is an application process that allows someone who would otherwise be ineligible for entry into the United States to gain permission and enter.
There are several types of waivers available depending on your specific situation, but they all require extensive documentation and proof of extreme hardship or persecution if you were denied entry. It’s a complicated process, and you’re required to file a Form I-601 with the help of an immigration lawyer.
Our experienced attorneys can help guide you through this challenging process so that your family does not have to suffer any longer.
If You Have a Green Card, Can You Be Deported?
Yes, under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, you can face deportation proceedings even if you have a green card.
For instance, you may be deported for U.S. immigration violations, marriage fraud, failure to register as a sex offender, or one of the crimes that would make you inadmissible for a green card, including aggravated felonies and any crime of moral turpitude.
Once you become a US citizen, you cannot get deported on any grounds (unless you obtained your immigration benefit through fraud). However, if you receive a criminal conviction for any of the above crimes before you get citizenship, U.S. immigration officials may initiate removal proceedings against you.
Contact an Immigration Attorney Today For All Your Immigration Law Needs
Having a criminal history can seem like a significant obstacle to navigating the immigration process, especially when it comes to getting your green card.
However, with the right immigration lawyer working on your application, you can make the process much easier and increase your chances of getting approved the first time.
Contact our Austin immigration law firm today!