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

By Michael Brooks-Jimenez

Are you a foreign national who wants to apply for a green card, but are hesitating because you have a "record" for a crime you committed long ago? Is it worth the effort, or will your criminal record make it impossible to succeed? So what's the verdict? Can you get a green card when you have a criminal record?

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Can I Get a Green Card  If I Have a Criminal Record?

One of the first things that officials will look at is whether the crime you committed is considered a serious crime (e.g., a felony like armed robbery), or a low-level crime. The answer to that question may not be as clear-cut as it seems.

The first thing to do, then, is to seek the advice of a lawyer, who can help you to figure out where you stand in the eyes of immigration officials ...

The Information Your Lawyer Will Need

In order to help you determine your chances of successfully obtaining a green card, your attorney will need to find answers to the following:

  • the name given to your crime, the definition of the crime, and in some cases, the facts surrounding the case itself
  • how old you were when you committed the crime
  • whether you have just one -- or multiple -- convictions on your record
  • and sometimes, the maximum possible penalty and length of prison sentence that can be imposed for the type of crime you committed.

Once your attorney has compiled this information with your help, she'll compare it with immigration laws contained in the Immigration and Nationality Act, addressing convictions of crimes of the same nature as the one you were convicted of.

This will help her determine whether a green card is possible, or whether applying for one would likely result in a denial.

Crimes That Will Make Securing a Green Card Impossible

The grounds of inadmissibility are found in Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.). Inadmissibility can also be the verdict for reasons other than having a criminal record.

For example, a person can be deemed "inadmissible" if he has a communicable disease, if he's violated immigration laws in the past, or if he's seen as at risk for needed government financial assistance in order to be able to live in the U.S.

icon - warning alert sign - color.pngYou should be aware that committing a crime once you've received your green card can make you subject to deportation, and applying when you already have a serious crime on your record will also likely be cause for deportation.

Here is a list of the crimes that will make securing a green card virtually impossible, and could also make you subject to immediate deportation:

  •  Aggravated Felonies (including crimes like murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, various serious theft convictions
  • Controlled Substance Violations (e.g., drug possession)
  •  Money Laundering
  • Drug Trafficking
  •  Kidnapping
  •  Prostitution
  • Human Trafficking

Other Things to Consider

Note that immigration authorities take other aspects of your life into consideration as well, and even if your crime was not serious, the ultimate decision on whether to grant you a green card is still at their discretion.

This is another reason to retain a qualified immigration attorney before applying for a green card! Yet another reason is the fact that with the new administration in Washington, immigration laws are subject to change and changes could be swift.

Immigration Attorney in Oklahoma

If you're in the South Oklahoma region, and find yourself wondering whether a past criminal conviction will preclude you from obtaining a green card, please don't hesitate to contact us at Michael Brooks-Jimenez, PC. (In addition to having office in South Oklahoma, we also make regular visits to towns in rural Oklahoma.)

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*Moral Turpitude: Determining whether a crime involves moral turpitude is up to the discretion of a judge, since the term was not given a strict definition by Congress. That means that one judge could find that your crime involved moral turpitude, and another could find that it didn't.

There are also some exceptions to the rule:

  • being under the age of 18 when you committed the crime and you're now at least 5 years older than when you committed the crime

  • you committed a crime for which the maximum penalty was a one year prison term and you were released after serving 6 months or less (commonly called the "petty offense" exception)

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