As an immigrant living in the United States with a visa, you are held to a higher standard than the average citizen. If you want to renew your visa, adjust your status or become a citizen, you can expect that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will perform another background check on you, just like they did when you first applied for a visa.
While you may have intended to follow all of the laws after entering the United States, differences in culture and even communication issues caused by a language barrier could put you at risk of arrest and criminal charges. There are two circumstances in which criminal charges may affect your immigration rights.
When the offense itself meets certain criteria
The USCIS has a specific set of rules used to evaluate whether a criminal charge will affect someone’s eligibility for a visa or their right to stay in the country. Violent offenses, felonies and crimes that lead to lengthy incarceration can all affect someone’s immigration rights. Anything that the USCIS determines is a crime of moral turpitude, meaning it is offensive to moral sensibilities, could also have immigration consequences.
When the offense costs you your job or relationship
While it may not directly affect your immigration status, getting arrested and charged with a crime might cost you your job. Some companies have a zero-tolerance policy for any arrest, and even those that don’t may terminate workers accused of specific kinds of offenses, like drug crimes or acts of violence. Criminal activity can also impact your closest relationships and might lead to a divorce, which could also negatively impact your immigration circumstances.
Understanding the role of criminal records in immigration cases can help those hoping to stay in the United States.