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April 23, 2024

Will a Criminal Record Affect My Ability to Get Citizenship?

A criminal record can have many adverse effects on your life, from challenges finding employment to issues securing a place to live. For individuals wishing to become U.S. citizens, a criminal record can be an even more significant source of concern. Every permanent resident who fills out an N-400 application for naturalization must reveal whether they have ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of a crime. 

While this question can cause a great deal of anxiety, a criminal record does not necessarily create an automatic bar to your path to citizenship. While a successful application requires an assessment of “good moral character,” whether a criminal background disqualifies you may sometimes be open to interpretation depending on the type of crime you committed, when you committed it, and the overall picture presented by the rest of your application.

Crimes Resulting in a Permanent Automatic Bar to Citizenship

The following crimes result in an automatic bar to your application, meaning U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has no discretion to approve it:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Trafficking illegal drugs
  • Some DUIs
  • Violent or theft crimes resulting in a year or more of imprisonment
  • Statutory rape
  • Money laundering in amounts over $10,000
  • Income tax evasion in amounts over $10,000

Furthermore, any other crime a state considers an “aggravated felony” will not only result in an automatic bar to your citizenship application, but it might also result in deportation.

Crimes Resulting in a Temporary Automatic Bar to Citizenship

If you have been convicted of what the USCIS considers a “crime involving moral turpitude,” you may be ineligible to apply for citizenship for five years (or three years if you are a permanent resident on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen). These crimes include the following:

  • Crimes involving an incarceration period of 180 days or more
  • Any two crimes resulting in a sentence of five or more years in jail/prison
  • Going to a sex worker
  • Fraud 
  • Illegal drug possession (with the exception of small amounts of marijuana)

Other crimes involving moral turpitude may result in a temporary automatic bar. Speak to a seasoned immigration lawyer if you have questions about specific entries on your criminal record.

Exceptions to an Automatic Bar

If you have been convicted in the following situations, the automatic bar may not apply to your application:

  • You received a conviction for “purely political offenses.”
  • You committed what would typically be considered an aggravated felony under the age of 18 (juvenile offense), and the conviction was more than five years ago.
  • Your crime was a petty offense, meaning it was not murder, an aggravated felony, or a crime involving moral turpitude.

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney Today

Even if you believe enough time has passed or one of the above exceptions applies, having a skilled immigration lawyer on your side can help significantly increase your chances of a successful application. The team at Stacer, PLC, understands what a significant moment this is for you, and we will do everything we can to assist you. Contact us today for a confidential consultation to learn more.