Can You Still Get Citizenship If You’ve Been Convicted of a Crime?

A clean criminal record is frequently mentioned as one of the most important factors in being able to obtain citizenship to the United States. And, with good reason—in a pool of tens of thousands of applications, a criminal record is one easy way for officials to separate the applicants they think will be productive citizens from the ones they may not want to give citizenship to. Immigration classifies different crimes in different ways and a conviction for a certain type of crime can make a person deportable.

Whether due to poor choices or bad luck, some immigrants have to deal with the fact that they have a criminal record. They may be wondering what their odds are of ever being able to secure citizenship.

The first thing to point out is that while only a portion of immigrants choose to work with an immigration attorney while filing for citizenship, those with a criminal record should definitely consider hiring the services of an immigration attorney. For one, because of their situation, they risk having their application denied outright. Even worse, if the crime is serious enough, the application can serve as an impetus for the government to begin removal proceedings. An immigration attorney can help to mitigate these risks as much as possible.

The Importance of “Good Moral Character”

The good news is that the United States government understands that people come from different types of backgrounds, and there are certain tolerances built into the system. The requirement for citizenship is to prove “good moral character” for at least three or five years prior to the time of application. Even a minor crime during that time can seriously hamper your chances of obtaining citizenship.

Depending on your specific situation and on your criminal record, you may want to wait until it’s been 3 (if married to a citizen) or 5 years from the conviction date on your most recent crime in order to give yourself a better chance on your application; however, be aware that past convictions can also be considered by the Immigration Officer. Expungements are not relevant to immigration matters and often cause more complications in securing the required conviction documents.

In addition, even if 3 or 5 years have passed, it’s up to you, the applicant, to prove why you deserve citizenship. Instead of merely waiting until some time has passed since your crime, your odds will be much better if you can frame the crime within a story of rehabilitation, particularly by showcasing how you have turned your life around with things like family, religion, community involvement, or other activities that are generally viewed as beneficial for society.

Are you afraid your criminal record may hold you back from getting your citizenship? Contact us today to set up a consultation!