The Catholic University of America

The Effect of Unlawful Behavior on Immigration Status

Nonimmigrants in the U.S. are expected to follow all the rules and regulations of the United States. Arrests and convictions could have a significant effect on immigration status and the ability to enter the U.S. The increasing accuracy and connections between various government databases have made it very important to know and obey relevant laws in the U.S.

Criminal Databases

U.S. Consular officers and Immigration inspectors run security checks on each person who applies for a visa or for admission into the U.S. These security checks check a variety of databases including:

  • The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) a federal database containing criminal records of both arrests and convictions. Any arrest for or conviction of a crime will be entered into NCIC and will trigger a "hit" when a Consular Officer or an Immigration Inspector runs a visa applicant's name through their computers for a security check. Consular officers cannot see the nature of the "Hit" and cannot issue a visa until the hit is cleared. This could take several weeks or months. Immigration officers, on the other hand can access NCIC and determine, usually within a few hours, the nature of the arrest or conviction and can tell if it is for something that would bar entry to the U.S.
  • Consular Lookout And Support System (CLASS) a database listing individuals who have been denied visas.

Arrests

Since arrests are entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), they will result in delays in the issuance of visas at a consulate and in delays at the boarder upon entry to the U.S.

You are arrested when:

  • you are fingerprinted and photographed by law enforcement
  • a law enforcement officer orders you to accompany him/her against your will

When an immigration officer or employee of Department of Homeland Security or the Department of State asks if you have been arrested, you must always admit to any arrest, even if the arrest was later found to be in error. Failure to disclose an arrest could result in your being found guilty of committing fraud to gain an immigration benefit and could result in being barred from the U.S. for life.

Convictions

Convictions are entered into NCIC. For immigration purposes, a conviction includes:

  • A formal judgment of guilt in court
  • an individual enters a guilty plea and enters some sort of program (community service, drug rehabilitation, etc.)
  • pleading "no contest"
  • conviction exists even if no time is actually spent in jail or if a fine is paid or probation is ordered
  • the conviction of a crime that is later "expunged" is still considered a conviction for immigration purposes