Can I Get US Citizenship with a Criminal Record?

If you or someone you know wants to apply for U.S. citizenship with a criminal record, you are looking in the right place for accurate and honest guidance. Every case is unique, and MyImmigration can evaluate the specifics of your situation to provide you with tailored advice.

Before you read any further, you need to know that if you have a criminal record, you should disclose it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If you lie on an immigration form, USCIS may deny your application.

Should I Reveal My Criminal Record?

Yes. Be transparent about your criminal record because USCIS probably already knows your record, and it can impact your application.

They likely already know your criminal record.
USCIS conducts a background check on every naturalization applicant. If you do not disclose a criminal incident that shows on a USCIS background check, your application may be denied for false testimony. And if you are denied for false testimony, you are barred from applying for US citizenship again for five years.

Your crime may or may not impact your case.
Some convictions and violations of law may make an applicant ineligible for U.S.citizenship, which we will explain below. However, your previous crime may not even be a reason for denial. It is in your best interest to consult with an attorney and be honest about your criminal history.

Arrests are on your record.
You should also know that most arrests that don’t lead to criminal charges may still remain on your criminal record. So, it would be best to share all aspects of your criminal record with USCIS during the naturalization process.

Your traffic records are included.
Minor traffic violations resulting in fines under $500 will not negatively impact your application. You do need to report and provide documentation for traffic violations with fines over $500 where an arrest occurred or where drugs, alcohol, or bodily injury were involved.

If you’re unsure whether you must mention something to USCIS, it is always better to provide the information – or ask us about it.

What If Your Criminal Record Was Sealed or Expunged?

If your criminal record was sealed or expunged, you still need to list it on your naturalization application and provide certain documentation. USCIS requires this. Keep in mind many criminal histories still exist (even when a government says they’ve been sealed or expunged), and not fully disclosing your criminal record on an immigration form may result in USCIS denying your naturalization application. This is true even if the crime you failed to mention on your naturalization application would not have made you ineligible.

What crimes may cause my application to be denied?

Many crimes will not hurt your ability to become a US Citizen, but some crimes will make you ineligible. If your crimes fall into any of the following categories, you may be ineligible for US citizenship depending on when you were convicted:

  • Crimes involving moral turpitude
  • Crimes involving illegal drugs
  • Aggravated felonies (or their international equivalents)

Crime Involving Moral Turpitude
Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) are acts where the person purposely, knowingly, or recklessly committed an act that is depraved, reprehensible, or immoral. Generally, these crimes are severe violations of acceptable norms because they are committed recklessly or with evil intent.

Some examples of CIMTs include murder, rape, certain sexual offenses, certain spousal or child abuse offenses, kidnapping, theft, robbery, fraud, aggravated assault, and others. Whether a criminal offense is a CIMT depends on how the criminal statute was written and varies from state to state. If you have been convicted of one or more CIMTs in the last five years, you may be ineligible for US citizenship.

In some cases, some exceptions may enable you to be eligible for naturalization. If you have questions about whether a criminal offense is a CIMT and how it may affect your eligibility for naturalization, you should contact MyImmigration.

Crimes Involving Illegal Substances
Violations of any controlled substance law of the United States, any State, or any foreign country within the last five years may make you ineligible for naturalization if committed within a specific time period before filing your application. Even low-level possession, and especially drug trafficking charges, can affect your case. USCIS can deny your case for controlled substance violations even if you were not actually convicted.

Marijuana is still classified as Schedule I controlled substances federally. Even though marijuana is legal in many states, it is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Possession of a Schedule I controlled substance is a violation of federal law. So if USCIS found you possessed marijuana even in a state where it is legalized, your possession may still be considered a violation of federal law. Thus, USCIS may find you ineligible for naturalization.

There is an exception for marijuana possession if it is a single offense and it involves less than 30 grams of marijuana. If you have questions about whether your controlled substance violation may affect your eligibility for naturalization, you should contact MyImmigration.

What crimes will cause my application to be denied?

Two specific convictions will forever bar a person from ever becoming a naturalized US citizen.

1) A conviction of murder at any time will make a person ineligible for naturalization.

2) A conviction of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990, will also make a person ineligible for naturalization.

Aggravated Felonies
Aggravated felonies or their international equivalents will generally make you permanently ineligible for naturalization and inadmissible to the United States. Immigration Federal law specifically lists aggravated felonies, typically involving violence, such as murder, kidnapping and rape. Even some theft, fraud, and drug crimes are considered aggravated felonies. The legal meaning of aggravated felonies is quite complex. Even some misdemeanors may be classified as aggravated felonies. USCIS provides a general list of aggravated felonies, but the list is always subject to change.

Why MyImmigration?

This article discusses just a few of the many considerations that should be taken into account when you have a criminal record and want to apply for US citizenship. You should not rely on the information in this article alone. If you have a criminal record and want to apply for US citizenship, you should speak to an experienced immigration attorney at MyImmigration.

Exceptions, waivers, and specific rules can apply to different cases, and eligibility requirements change over time. MyImmigration can assess the severity of your criminal record and its potential impact on your case. We can provide guidance on whether it’s advisable to apply for citizenship or if there are steps you should take to improve your eligibility.

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