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I Want To Apply For Permanent Residency But I Have A Criminal Background. What should I do?

By Michael Brooks-Jimenez

Every undocumented immigrant dreams of the day they can become a legal permanent resident and receive their "green card." However, some will face more legal obstacles than others and, in some cases, a criminal record may be used against an applicant.

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Can I apply for US residency if I have a criminal record?

Although numerous studies have shown that immigrants commit fewer crimes, on average, than US-born Americans, there are undocumented immigrants who have committed a criminal act. 

For this reason, a frequently asked question is "If I was arrested, will I have problems when I apply for residency?"

LPR Application with Criminal Background.pngUnfortunately, the answer is not a simple "yes" or "no."

Although any U.S. citizen has the right to request the residence of his or her foreign spouse, it is the applicant's record that they are requesting to determine whether or not they qualify for the benefit of legal permanent residency. 

To obtain permanent residency, an applicant must verify that they do not pose a threat to the country and that he or she will be a productive member of the society. This includes showing that you have not committed certain crimes in the past, such as possession of certain types of drugs.

As for the crimes committed in the past by an applicant, these are assessed on a case-by-case basis. Each case is different and the answers may vary depending on each person's background.

First, consult with a reputable attorney

For this reason, we would reccommend you obtain your criminal records and take them to a lawyer. This way, you will be aware of any immigration consequences you may face, and will be able to determine if this criminal record disqualifies you.

Do not send your application without first consulting with an attorney about whether or not you qualify for permanent legal residency in the United States.

Other factors to consider

In addition, USCIS will look into how the individual entered the country, either with or without documentation.

Lawful Entry

If an individual entered legally, the applicant will not have to leave the country and can do entire process within the country.

Unlawful Entry

If an individual entered the country without documentation (ie entered illegally), the applicant will have to file a 601A Provisional Pardon, leave the country, complete a consular process, and return to the country legally. Only then can you receive your legal permanent resident card.

Without this provisional pardon, if an individual leaves the country, they are subject to a bar of reentry to the US of 10 years. It is very important to take this into account before setting foot outside of the United States. 

Para leer esta nota es Español, haga clic aquí.