Can I get a green card if I have a criminal conviction?
Under U.S. immigration law, the term Moral turpitude refers to an action that is morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong.
Most of the immigration offenses are included in the category of crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT), or aggravated felonies. U.S. federal immigration law makes an alien convicted of a CIMT or who admits committing the essential elements of a CIMT ineligible to enter the U.S., obtain a temporary O-1A visa or a green card, with only very few exceptions available.
The CIMT is one of the oldest and most common ground of forced removal from the United States, along with the removal of aliens that committed entry without inspection. It was introduced for the first time in 1891, providing the removal of people guilty of a crime involving moral turpitude.
Although it was introduced in the U.S. federal law more than one hundred years ago, there is still no clear definition of what it is a CIMT. While the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held that a CIMT refers to acts that are per se vile or involving fraud or deception, the federal district courts have expressed different interpretation of this subject.
The crimes involving moral turpitude generally fall into three different categories:
- Crimes against property (blackmail, arson, burglary, receipt of stolen property);
- Crimes committed against the U.S. government (tax evasion, corruption, fraud against the government);
- Crimes committed against the person (statutory rape, murder, aggravated assault, robbery, child neglect).
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the conviction of a CIMT makes a foreign national ineligible to come to the U.S. or obtain immigration benefits. If the immigrant is already in the country, he or she could be precluded from even getting a Green Card or become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
The laws on crimes of moral turpitude is constantly changing and only an immigration lawyer that is familiar with the local criminal laws and the federal immigration regulations is thus able to provide a comprehensive analysis of the case. You may apply for the “Petty Offense Exception” if:
- you were less than 18 years old at the time of the crime;
- the sentence was imposed more than 5 years ago;
- the maximum penalty for the crime does not exceed 1 year in jail and actual sentence was less than 180 days in jail.
Another way to get a Visa despite a conviction for a CIMT is to apply for a Waiver under the Section 212(h) of the INA.