If you’re visiting the United States on an F-1, M-1 or J-1 visa, merely being accused of a crime could have serious consequences. Some programs expel people who are charged with crimes. If you are expelled, your program is required to report it to SEVIS within 21 days. Since you are required to be enrolled full-time in school or sponsored by a program, expulsion could result in revocation of your visa even if you are ultimately cleared of the crime.
Being charged with a crime causes further difficulties. You may be prohibited from leaving the U.S. until your criminal charges are resolved, and that might take years. To reinstate your travel privileges, you may be tempted to plead guilty, especially if the offense is a misdemeanor. No matter how minor it seems, you should never plead guilty to any crime without first consulting with an immigration attorney.
This is because pleading guilty is an admission that you committed the crime and counts as a criminal conviction. Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), admitting to or being convicted of certain crimes can result in deportation. You could also be deemed inadmissible, meaning you could not return to the United States for up to 10 years.
Moreover, you should know that some of the crimes that can lead to deportation and inadmissibility are misdemeanors.
To protect your visa, you need to fight any criminal charge
The list of such crimes in the INA is quite long, but here are some examples of crimes where a conviction could result in deportation and inadmissibility:
- Any “crime of moral turpitude,” which means “an act or behavior that gravely violates the sentiment or accepted standard of the community.” This can include murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, robbery, and aggravated assault, among other such offenses, along with certain convictions involving fraud or dishonesty. Note that crimes of moral turpitude include misdemeanor-level domestic violence, crimes against children and violating protective orders.
- Violating any state, federal or foreign law relating to controlled substances. This can include even misdemeanor marijuana possession, although it also includes trafficking in controlled substance and benefitting from drug trafficking.
- Prostitution, solicitation and unlawful commercialized vice, along with sex trafficking, human trafficking and benefitting from human trafficking.
- Money laundering, including aiding, abetting, assisting, conspiring and colluding in money laundering.
- Any two or more convictions for which the combined sentences add up to five or more years’ imprisonment.
In other words, your immigration status could be under threat from virtually any criminal conviction, which includes a guilty plea. Possession of marijuana, a fight with your significant other, buying a beer with a fake ID — any of these relatively minor crimes could threaten your visa. So could a series of misdemeanors that led to jail time, if that jail time adds up to five years or more.
Get legal help as soon as you’re accused of any crime
The stakes are high for international students and all immigrants when it comes to crime. Certain criminal convictions can get you deported and barred from re-entry to the U.S.
It is possible to lose your visa merely for an accusation, if your program expels you. Yet you can’t leave the U.S. until any criminal charges are resolved.
You need an immigration attorney to help you resolve any difficulties with your visa and to advise you on the potential consequences of a conviction — including pleading guilty. You also need a criminal defense lawyer to help you resolve your criminal charges.
Yew Immigration Law Group can advise you. We’ve been doing so for years. If you have a question about student or exchange visitor visas or the effect of a criminal accusation, contact us right away.