Immigration Lawyers

Getting a Visa to the US if you have been Convicted of a Crime


Can I request a visa to the United States if I have been convicted of a crime?

Section 212(a)(2) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act states that persons convicted of certain crimes are not eligible to receive a visa to the United States. This includes drug-related offenses and violent crime. However, many visa applicants can request an exception to this rule – a 212(h) waiver – which allows them to be granted a visa despite their criminal background. This article outlines the types of crimes that may make an applicant ineligible for a visa, and advice for how to request a waiver if they have been convicted of one or more of those crimes.

Which crimes might prevent me from getting a visa to the United States?

A conviction of the following crimes can permanently bar an applicant from receiving a visa to the US:

Drug-Related Offenses: If you were convicted of a drug related offense anywhere in the world, including your home country, you are ineligible for a visa. This is true even if the drug is legal in certain US states or foreign countries (for example, marijuana). However, those convicted of possession of 30mg or less of marijuana may apply for a waiver.

Fraudulent Conduct: If you were convicted of a crime involving fraud or deceit– including theft of physical or intellectual property – you are ineligible for a visa.

Physical or Sexual Violence: If you were convicted of a crime involving serious physical violence, such as assault with a weapon or vehicle, you are ineligible for a visa. This is especially true if the crime was of a sexual nature, such as rape, sexual harassment or assault.

Multiple criminal convictions: If you were convicted of more than one crime, and the combined length of the prison sentences for these crimes is five years or more, you are ineligible for a visa.

What if I was convicted as a child?

If you were under the age of 18 when the crime was committed, and you are applying for a visa more than five years after your conviction, you are still eligible for a visa. You will need to present documentation and explain the circumstances of the conviction in your visa petition.

Are there any exceptions to these conditions?

Yes. You can apply for a waiver, which essentially asks the US immigration authorities to excuse your previous conviction and give you a visa anyway. In this case, the authorities will review the circumstances of your conviction, including the seriousness of the crime and how much time has passed since you were convicted, and the reason that you are requesting a visa to the United States. If you are granted the waiver, it will usually apply for the length of the visa and allow you to exit and enter the United States according to the terms of your visa.

Often, an applicant is able to argue that denial of their visa will result in extreme hardship to a member of their family who is a US citizen or permanent resident. Ultimately, however, granting of the waiver is discretionary and no outcome is guaranteed.

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