Can I Enter the USA with a Criminal Record?

esta criminal record

If you have a criminal record and are planning to travel to the United States of America you might face difficulties when applying for a tourist visa or an ESTA visa waiver, or when entering the country. However, this is not to say it is impossible.

Individuals convicted of crimes of moral turpitude will not be treated the same as those who have misdemeanor charges such as “Driving under Influence” (DUI). Whether you will be granted an ESTA or a visa depends entirely on the details of your criminal history.

This article explains the types of crimes that are unlikely to affect a traveler’s chances of being granted access to the United States and serious crimes that could be problematic.

Can I Go on Holiday to America with a Criminal Record?

It is possible to go on vacation to the U.S. with a criminal record for a minor offense.

Criminal convictions for the following misdemeanours are unlikely to result in denial of entry or a visa/ESTA application rejection:

  • Drinking and Driving / Driving under the influence
  • Assault
  • Illegal trespassing

A single non-serious crime is not, in most cases, sufficient grounds for denial of entry. However, if you have committed these crimes repeatedly, then entry/visa/ESTA rejection is possible.

Having a criminal record does automatically make an individual ineligible for ESTA: cases are assessed on an individual basis and depend on the specific nature of the offense(s):

Drug convictions are very likely to cause an application to be rejected.

Traveling to the U.S. after a Crime of Moral Turpitude

Essentially, crimes of moral turpitude can make ESTA applicants inadmissible. “Good moral character” is one of the main requirements for a successful ESTА application.

The term first appeared in the US immigration law in 1891. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) explains such crimes as those which are: contrary to the general rules of morality, despicable, and aggressive.

Offenses classified as crimes of moral turpitude by the U.S. government

Crimes of moral turpitude can generally be divided into the following categories:

Crimes against Property

Crimes against property include:

  • Arson
  • Blackmail
  • Burglary
  • Extortion
  • Fraud
  • Robbery

Crimes against governmental authority

Offenses in this category classed as CMT include:

  • Bribery
  • Mail/wire fraud
  • Perjury
  • Tax evasion

Personal, relationship and sexual crimes

This is one of the largest categories of crimes of moral turpitude and covers offenses such as:

  • Abandonment of a child
  • Assault
  • Bigamy
  • Gross indecency
  • Kidnapping
  • Manslaughter
  • Murder
  • Rape

Aiding and abetting, conspiracy

This category covers criminal records obtained for playing some role in a serious crime or attempted serious crime:

  • Accessory to a CMT
  • Aiding and abetting a CMT
  • Attempt to commit a CMT
  • Taking part in a conspiracy to commit a CMT

Crimes of various nature may be included in the list in one country, while in a different country the classification may be different.

Nevertheless, all travelers with a criminal record must bear in mind that the essential regulations are those of the United States. For this reason, it is advisable to seek advice from an attorney at law if hoping to travel to the US with a criminal record for a crime of moral turpitude.

Travelling to America with a Criminal Record

All convictions must be declared, and all answers to the related ESTA / Visa application questions must be honest and truthful.

Failing to do so will lead to severe consequences should a U.S. immigration officer determine fraud has been committed by omitting or lying about their criminal history. Substantial penalties and legal action will follow.

If you are from a country, such as the United Kingdom, where the law allows you to avoid full disclosure of some criminal convictions, note that making a visa or an ESTA application for the United States waives all such rights.

All applicants, regardless of their nationality, must disclose any past and/or present criminal information fully.

Those who are applying for a tourist visa for the USA will go through the official interview stage. Should you have a criminal record, you will be required to show official documentation related to the conviction during the interview process.

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