As part of the pathway to naturalization, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service will perform a thorough review of your criminal record. Those who have been arrested and charged with or accused of a crime, either in the United States or their home country, may be permanently barred from achieving full U.S. citizenship. However, not every crime results in a permanent bar, so speak with an experienced immigration attorney if you have ever been accused of a crime. New York City’s Berd & Klauss, PLLC, an immigration law firm, explains this situation further.
When you apply for citizenship, the USCIS will establish your “good moral character” for the previous five years; however, any negative actions prior to this five-year period may still be viewed by the USCIS. Full disclosure is imperative, so even if a prior conviction was expunged, it’s best to be open about your entire criminal record.
Crimes Resulting in a Permanent Bar
Anyone convicted of murder or an aggravated felony is automatically, permanently barred from American citizenship, meaning that individual officers have no discretion in denying a petition. While murder is obvious, the definition of an aggravated felony according to USCIS is much broader than most would assume. Almost all violent crimes, firearm trafficking, and fraud of more than $10,000 are included, as well as many offenses that are often considered misdemeanors. For instance, if you have ever been convicted of burglary or resisting arrest, you may be permanently barred from citizenship.
Keep in mind that some crimes may be misdemeanors in certain state or local courts, so you should speak to an immigration attorney first to discuss the matter.
Crimes Resulting in a Temporary Ban
Individuals accused of other crimes may only be barred from citizenship temporarily. For example, accusations of petty fraud, prostitution, or any drug crime may cause you to be barred from receiving citizenship for five years, or three years if you are married to an American citizen. If you have served more than 180 days in jail or been convicted of more than two crimes totaling more than five years in jail, the USCIS agent may deny your claim. However, because agents do have some discretion with these crimes, speak to an immigration attorney before filing your citizenship petition.
Some crimes may not be specifically listed on the permanent or temporary bar list. For example, it is possible to still gain citizenship if you were charged with a DUI. The circumstances of the conviction, coupled with your overall good moral character, will be included in your evaluation. If you entered into a treatment program or did volunteer work after your conviction, this may have a positive impact on your application.
As one of NYC's most respected immigration law firms, Berd & Klauss, PLLC has successfully guided clients from around the world through the intricacies of the legal system. For a comprehensive overview of their legal services, visit their website, and follow their Facebook for more insight. To schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Alex Berd or Patrick Klauss, call their offices at (212) 461-7152 today.