Immigration 101: Criminal Inadmissibility Grounds

There are several ways in which your criminal history may impact your admissibility into the US as a noncitizen. We’ve already discussed the admissibility consequences of crimes of moral turpitude (CMTs) and drug crimes in previous posts, but there are a few other grounds of inadmissibility that may apply if you have ever been convicted of a crime inside or outside of the United States. If you have questions or concerns about how your criminal record could affect you, please contact us for a complimentary consultation.

Multiple Criminal Convictions

If you have been convicted of more than one criminal offense, and you were sentenced to at least five years incarceration as a result, you’re not admissible to the US. It doesn’t matter where these crimes occurred, or how many years it has been since you committed them. Even if you didn’t actually serve five years in jail or prison, you are inadmissible if your actual sentence adds up to five years. So, for example, you would be inadmissible if you committed two crimes and you were sentenced to a total of six years, even if you only served four years because of good behavior.

There is an exception for criminal convictions that arise from “purely political offenses,” which means that you won’t be automatically inadmissible because of a conviction by a repressive government on charges that were purely made up, or that were an obvious excuse to punish you because you belong to a disfavored ethnic, religious, or political group.

You may be able to obtain a waiver of this ground of inadmissibility under INA §212(h).

National Security and Terrorism Grounds

You may be inadmissible if you have ever been involved with, or intend to engage in, espionage or terrorist activities. You may also be inadmissible if you have been a member of a totalitarian political party, or participated in acts of genocide, torture, government-sanctioned killings, or the recruitment or use of child soldiers. These inadmissibility provisions are rarely applicable.

Additional Criminal Grounds

You may be inadmissible if you have ever been involved in prostitution, commercialized vice (such as illegal gambling), human trafficking, money laundering, violations of other peoples’ religious freedoms, international child abduction, or if you unlawfully voted in a US election. There are waivers available for some of these inadmissibility grounds.

This article is part of our ongoing “Immigration 101” series, in which we break down topics in US immigration law. For more articles in this series, click here.

The content in this post was originally written by Stuart Nickum and adapted by Lena Barouh.


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