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Impact of Criminal History on Green Card & Citizenship

Kavitha Mathew Jan. 28, 2022

A criminal record, whether in your home country, the United States, or another country, affects your ability to be approved for a green card or citizenship in the U.S. Although a criminal history complicates the process, it does not necessarily prohibit you from approval for either. However, your history can also bar you from approval completely or result in your deportation from the U.S.

If you have a criminal record, you may be walking a fine line between admissibility and inadmissibility. At M Mathew Law Firm PLLC, I help clients like you understand the effect a criminal history may have on the application process for green cards and citizenship. If you have anything on your criminal record, minor or major, in any country, we should talk. If you live in Dallas, Garland, Richardson, Mesquite, Irving, Farmers Branch, Grand Prairies, or Lewisville, Texas, call me today.

What Does “Good Moral Character” Mean?

“Good Moral Character,” also called “GMC,” is a standard used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to measure individuals applying for a green card or citizenship. Being of good moral character means you obey the law and do not harm others or society.

You must demonstrate to the USCIS that you have exhibited GMC for at least the five years immediately preceding your application for status. You should have no arrests or convictions for any crimes on your record during that period, which means you should wait for at least five years from an arrest or completion of the resulting penalties of a conviction before applying for a green card or citizenship.

“Conviction” means you were penalized for a crime. This could mean you paid a fine for a traffic violation, completed jail time, probation, or paid fees and restitution. The USCIS also considers as a conviction completion of a diversion program or other alternative adjudication, even though such programs are designed to keep a conviction off of your record.

Crimes of moral turpitude automatically bar you from green card status and citizenship. “Moral turpitude” means you committed an “evil act” in which you intentionally meant to do harm.

Crimes that Can Lead to Deportation

Certain crimes qualify you to be deported from the U.S., even if you wait long enough for them to not affect your GMC. Most criminal charges related to drugs, firearms, domestic violence, and restraining orders are commonly deportable crimes.

If you are in the U.S. legally, you may not want to draw the attention of the USCIS to deportable crimes you have committed. Applying for citizenship may not be a good idea. Again, you should talk to an immigration attorney before applying for any status to make sure you will not do more harm than good.

Effects of Crimes on Green Card Applications

There are crimes that make you inadmissible and disqualify you from obtaining a green card. Aggravated felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, and drug crimes (except for those involving a small amount of marijuana for personal use) make you ineligible for a green card.

You may also be denied a green card if the person who is sponsoring your immigration, such as a spouse or family member, has committed these types of crimes. Despite all of this, you may be able to file a “waiver of inadmissibility” and still be able to obtain a green card.

Perhaps the most important crime to avoid committing is providing false or incomplete information about your criminal history on any USCIS application. The USCIS will use your information and your fingerprints to conduct a criminal background check in the U.S., your home country, and internationally. If they find that you lied on your application, it will almost certainly be denied.

Waiver of Inadmissibility

When you apply for a waiver of inadmissibility, you are asking to be allowed to enter the U.S. legally despite your criminal record or the criminal record of the person sponsoring you. You must prove that your admission will not put anyone else at risk of harm, or that if you are not allowed to come, your spouse who is in the U.S. legally would suffer extreme hardship due to your absence.

Although some circumstances will qualify you for a waiver, some types of criminal history will not be waived. Your immigration attorney can help you understand the waiver process and the likelihood of receiving one.

Let an Experienced Immigration Attorney Help

Applying for a green card or citizenship is never easy, especially with a criminal history. The GMC time period, the crimes that may or may not disqualify you, and your ability to make a case for a waiver are all complicated and confusing. One wrong move can even have you deported. I am ready to help you. Before you do anything, talk to me. Call me at M Mathew Law Firm, PLLC in Dallas, Texas today.