Immigration 101: Non-Criminal Inadmissibility Grounds

Whether you’re applying for a visa to enter the US, attempting to avoid removal, or adjusting your immigration status, you’ll need to show that you are admissible to the United States. The government has identified certain reasons why you might not be admissible. These reasons are called “grounds of inadmissibility,” and they’re divided into criminal and non-criminal categories. We’ve already covered criminal grounds of inadmissibility; in this article, we’ll explore the non-criminal grounds of inadmissibility. It’s important to remember two things: First, even if any of these grounds of inadmissibility apply to you, you may be eligible for a waiver that will allow you to overcome this major hurdle; and second, as always, please remember that there is no substitute for consulting with an experienced immigration attorney who can help you navigate the complex and often confusing world of immigration law.

Aliens Who are Present Without Admission or Parole

If you are currently present in the US, and you entered the country without having been granted admission or parole from an immigration official, you are inadmissible and may be subject to removal. This is the most commonly applied inadmissibility ground, because it means that anyone who crossed the US border unlawfully is removable. However, there is one major exception to this rule. If you have been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by a spouse or parent, and there is a clear connection between your unlawful entry and the abuse you suffered, you are not inadmissible for being present without permission.

The government may waive this inadmissibility ground if you are the spouse or child of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, and you can show that your spouse or parent would suffer extreme hardship if you were removed from the US. If you are a VAWA self-petitioner, you can also receive a waiver if you can show that your removal would cause extreme hardship to yourself, or a parent or child.

Aliens Who Procure Admission or Immigration Benefits by Fraud

If you used fraud or misrepresentation to gain admission to the US or to take advantage of other immigration benefits, you are inadmissible. Examples would include entering the country using a fake green card, lying to immigration officials at the border about your true identity, or filing a fraudulent asylum application.

The government may waive this inadmissibility ground if you are the spouse or child of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, and you can show that your spouse or parent would suffer extreme hardship if you were removed from the US. If you are a VAWA self-petitioner, you can also receive a waiver if you can show that your removal would cause extreme hardship to yourself, or a parent or child.

Aliens Who Made False Claims of Citizenship

If you have falsely claimed to be a US citizen in order to secure any kind of immigration advantage, you are inadmissible. Examples include telling a border guard that you are a US citizen in order to enter the US, or falsely claiming US citizenship when filling out a federal student loan application. Importantly, it does not matter whether you knew you were making a citizenship claim. If you signed something like an application for a driver’s license or an application for a federally-backed mortgage, you may have missed the fine print on the back that says that, by signing, you are certifying that you are a US citizen.

This is a very strict provision, and there are no waivers available even if you didn’t know that you were making a citizenship claim. There are two narrow exceptions to the provision: First, if you permanently lived in the US before you turned 16, you have a US citizen parent, and you genuinely believed you were a US citizen at the time you made the false citizenship claim; and second, if you made a false claim before September 30, 1996. If either of these exceptions apply to your situation, you will not be inadmissible because you made a false citizenship claim.

Aliens Who Engaged in Alien Smuggling

If you have ever helped or encouraged someone to attempt to enter the US unlawfully – for example, if you allowed a friend of yours to hide in the trunk of your car when you drove across the border into the US, or you gave your spouse money to hire a coyote to smuggle them into the country – then you are inadmissible.

This inadmissibility ground may be waived if you are a lawful permanent resident and the person you helped to enter the country unlawfully was your spouse, child, or parent. There is also a highly specialized waiver that may be available in cases where the smuggling occurred before May 5, 1988.

Aliens With Health Concerns

You may be inadmissible if you have a serious communicable disease (like active tuberculosis and certain sexually transmitted infections), you have not been vaccinated against common illnesses, or you have a mental or physical disorder that may pose a danger to yourself or others. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may be able to obtain a waiver of these inadmissibility grounds. For example, you may be eligible for a waiver if you have a qualifying relationship with a US citizen, permanent resident, or immigrant visa holder, or if there is a documented medical reason why you can’t be vaccinated.

You may also be inadmissible if USCIS concludes that you are a drug addict or abuser. There is no waiver available for this ground of inadmissibility.

Public Charges

You may be inadmissible if you are likely to become dependent on government assistance after you are admitted to the US.

Aliens Previously Removed

You may be inadmissible if you failed to appear at a prior removal proceeding, or if you were previously ordered removed from the US and you are seeking admission within five (or in some cases, ten) years of your removal. If you leave the US after living here unlawfully for more than a year and then seek readmission within ten years of departure, you may be inadmissible. You may also be inadmissible if you spent less than six months living in the US unlawfully, left the country, and seek admission within three years of that departure.

Miscellaneous Other Grounds

If you’re permanently ineligible to become a US citizen for any reason, or you previously left the US in order to avoid serving in the US military, you may be inadmissible. You’re also inadmissible if you came to the US to practice polygamy.

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.

Disclaimer: The content in this blog is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be construed as legal advice or opinion. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact us.


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