If you are not a citizen of the United States and have been convicted of a crime in the United States or a country outside the United States, a criminal conviction can have serious consequences for you if you wish to become a legal permanent resident (LPR) or citizen of the United States or wish to obtain a visa to come to the United States. This article shall focus on the consequences of a conviction received in the United States and that conviction’s impact on becoming an LPR or US citizen.
A conviction exists where there has been a formal judgment of guilt entered by a court or if adjudication has been withheld where all of the following elements are present: (1) a Judge or Jury has found the alien guilty or the person entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or no contest or has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt; and, (2) the Judge has ordered some form of punishment, penalty or restraint on a person’s liberty to be imposed. INA § (a)(48)(A)
If you have been convicted of a crime and are attempting to obtain LPR status or become a US citizen, do not apply for LPR status or citizenship before you speak to a qualified immigration attorney. If you apply for LPR status or US citizenship you have to supply information and documentation regarding the criminal conviction and at your interview with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on any application for LPR status or US citizenship, the conviction will be discussed by the interviewing officer. USCIS has the right to place you in immediate removal proceedings based upon your criminal conviction. I am personally aware of situations where an individual, with a criminal conviction, attended an interview to become a US citizen and was arrested at the interview, never had the opportunity to leave the USCIS building and was taken straight to detention and thereafter placed in removal proceedings. There are certain criminal convictions for which you may be eligible for a waiver from either inadmissibility or removal from the United States. There are also certain criminal convictions for simple possession of marijuana (30 grams or less) which will not result in you being placed in removal proceedings or deemed inadmissible. In certain circumstances, a petit theft crime may not make you inadmissible or removable from the United States. However, most other convictions for crimes will place you at risk if you apply for LPR status or to become a US citizen.
If you consult with a qualified immigration attorney, that attorney can advise on the specific consequences of any conviction or convictions you have and possibilities for any relief or if you are eligible for a waiver. The key is to seek qualified, competent legal advice before you file any application with USCIS or the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Do not file an application for LPR status or US citizenship and hope for the best or think that things will simply work out at the interview if you have been convicted of a crime.
Please note, it you have been convicted of a crime and your conviction(s) has been either expunged or sealed you must unseal or unexpunge the conviction and provide evidence and documentation regarding the conviction to USCIS or DHS if you are applying to become an LPR or a US citizen. A conviction that is sealed or expunged does not give you the right to say that you have not been convicted of a crime in any application you file with USCIS or DHS. Also, please note, that if adjudication of guilt has been withheld that is still considered a conviction for immigration purposes and you must provide evidence and documentation of the adjudication being withheld.
Because of the Trump administration’s increasing emphasis on enforcement and removal, it is more important than ever, that if you are contemplating becoming an LPR or US citizen that you consult with a qualified, competent immigration attorney if you have been convicted of a crime in the United States. I would be happy to consult with you if you have been convicted of a crime to determine if you are eligible to become an LPR or US citizen. Feel free to contact me for a confidential consultation.
 Immigration law source book 16th edition, Ira J. Kurzban.
About the Author
Oliver J. Langstadt is a Jamaican American attorney admitted to practice law in the state of Florida. He was raised in St. Mary Jamaica, near Highgate. He completed his high school education at the Priory School in Kingston, Jamaica. He attended the University of Miami School of Law and graduated with his law degree in 1985. He has been practicing law and immigration law for over twenty-five years. He is well-seasoned in all aspects of immigration law, including family petitions, immigrant visas, non-immigrant visas, business visas, investor visas, waivers from removal and unlawful presence, naturalization applications, and removal defense. He may be contacted at 305 648 3909 or via e-mail, at [email protected] He welcomes the chance to be of service regarding your US immigration cases and matters.