Applying for citizenship or permanent resident status in the United States can be an arduous process. Government officials will dig deep into your background when deciding your immigration fate. The Department of Homeland Security has high standards for non-residents living and working in this country. Criminal acts and convictions can jeopardize a non-citizen's goal of remaining in the United States.
When a non-citizen is convicted of a crime, they may face serious immigration consequences. This leaves many non-citizens wondering: can I clean up my criminal record for immigration purposes?
Many people opt to pursue expungement, or the process of “deleting” their criminal record. When a court agrees to expunge a record, they're considered to never have committed the crime at all. The process can be more complicated than you might expect, though, and often doesn't have the desired impact for immigration purposes.
What is Expungement?
Any time a person is arrested, the charges go on their criminal record. At the very minimum, a record of their arrest is listed under their name. If the person goes on to be convicted, their record will reflect both the charges and the conviction. These records follow a person over the years. Employers, insurance companies, landlords, adoption agencies, and immigration services can all access criminal records.
Expungement helps to wipe the record clean. After completing the expungement process, a person can legally claim that the arrest and/or conviction did not occur. This fresh start helps give people a clean slate to pursue jobs, housing, and other opportunities without their past as a roadblock.
Immigration Consequences of a Criminal Conviction
Legal permanent residents face serious penalties when convicted of a crime. In addition to fines, probation, and jail time, non-citizens may see serious immigration consequences after a conviction. Some criminal convictions can even be grounds for deportation or removal of non-citizens.
The United States Citizen and Immigration Services agency considers criminal history when a person applies for a work visa, permanent residence, or citizenship. Expunging misdemeanor records can help people in their search for housing or a job, but it won't help in terms of immigration. For immigration purposes, there's simply no such thing as expunging or sealing criminal records. Regardless of whether or not a court expunges a non-citizen's record, the conviction will always factor into immigration decisions.
There's still hope for non-citizens with criminal backgrounds, though. Depending on the case, the nature of the crime, and the sentence handed down, non-citizens may be able to remain in the United States and even become citizens if they so choose.
Disclosing Criminal History on Immigration Applications
Whether you're applying for a green card, a visa, or citizenship, you'll be required to disclose a great deal of information about yourself on the application. It's important not to lie or misrepresent yourself in the process. While expungement clears your record in the eyes of employers, landlords, and adoption agencies, immigration officials will always be able to see your arrest and conviction history. That's why it's crucial to always be upfront about your criminal history when filing an application for citizenship, green cards, or visas.
Regardless of expungement, make sure to report your criminal history to immigration officials truthfully and completely. Include any documentation regarding how the arrest, charge, and conviction were handled. This process can be confusing for the average person, so it's important to work with an attorney whenever possible. Misrepresentation of your criminal history can decide your fate, so prioritize transparency throughout the application process.
Expungement and the Right to Remain in the United States
If you're convicted of a crime while lawfully living in the United States, the government may deport you back to your home country. Deportation can happen to foreign nationals who are in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa and those who have their green cards. Of course, deportation can also happen to foreign nationals living in the U.S. illegally, regardless of whether they committed a crime.
After expungement, immigration can still see your criminal history and factor it into the decision to deport. Generally speaking, crimes involving moral turpitude – specifically, crimes that involve dishonesty or depraved conduct – are looked upon with more gravity than misdemeanors. While you may still apply for citizenship after expungement, the Department of Homeland Security will still have access to your criminal record. They will consider the type of crime you've been convicted of before deciding whether to allow you to remain in the country.
Benefits of Expungement on Immigration
It can be frustrating to learn that immigration officials can still factor expunged charges and convictions into their decisions to deport or grant citizenship. Still, expungement holds several benefits for non-citizens.
If a person has been convicted of simple drug possession and has no other criminal history, expungement is a great option. Failure to expunge results in mandatory deportation, so it's important to act sooner rather than later. Those convicted of a non-deportable offense should also pursue expungement, as they only stand to benefit from clearing their record.
Immigration officials don't limit their investigations into a person's background. In addition to their criminal records, officials also look at an applicant's stability. Having a steady job and place to live can seriously improve your standing in the eyes of the Department of Homeland Security. An expunged record makes finding a place to live and work easier.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help
The immigration consequences of a conviction can be extreme, but there is hope for non-citizens. Even if an expungement doesn't have a direct impact on the immigration process, it is often still advantageous for those hoping to remain living and working in the United States.
If you've been accused and convicted of committing a crime and are a non-citizen, it's important to talk to a New Jersey criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is passionately committed to helping people like you get the legal assistance they need. Don't let your past impact your future. Call 888.535.3686 or fill out this form to schedule your consultation with the Lento Law Firm now.