We frequently meet with Canadians and other nationals who are concerned about their admissibility to the United States. We also advise Canadian defense attorneys about the consequences of a plea or conviction on United States admissibility. Frequently, persons arrive at the border, seeking entry, only to learn that they are inadmissible (or so the government says), and that they will need a waiver.
Here are some tips on admissibility issues, from my perspective as an immigration attorney:
1. Foreign pardons and expungements do not typically help with U.S. immigration. A conviction vacated for substantive reasons might overcome inadmissibility.
2. The sealing of criminal records can present an obstacle for U.S. immigration purposes, as the burden of proof for admissibility is upon the applicant. The U.S. government will want to see those records, even if they’re under seal.
3. Temporary visitor waivers are available, but they are costly and take months to adjudicate, and must be renewed every five years. Permanent waivers for immigrants are more challenging, but are sometimes available, depending on the past offense.
4. The definition of a conviction under U.S. immigration law includes more than just convictions. Admissions of guilt in the record may count too.
5. Any conviction “related to” controlled substances is a basis for inadmissibility. U.S. immigration law is particularly hard on all controlled substances issues. Marijuana is still considered a controlled substance under federal (national) law, even though many states have legalized.
6. Drug abuse, drug addiction, and alcohol abuse are bases for inadmissibility without a conviction. When applicable, the U.S. Government may require an expert opinion from a U.S. authorized civil surgeon on whether a person is a drug or alcohol abuser prior to admission to the United States.
7. A person is inadmissible if the government has a “reason to believe” that she is or has been a drug trafficker.
8. In general, sentences of less than a year are better (e.g. 364 days or less) to avoid the possibility of having a conviction deemed an “aggravated felony” under U.S. immigration law.
9. Misrepresentation at the border is a basis for a lifetime ban from the U.S. They may search the phone or computer, interview friends and employers, and otherwise double-check to see if someone is lying. Lifetime ban if they make that determination, which in time can be overcome through the waiver process.
10. The U.S. law on inadmissibility is a complicated area of law even for U.S. lawyers, including U.S. immigration lawyers. If there are concerns, it is best to consult with us, or someone like us. If worse comes to worse, it may be better to stop answering questions, and ask to withdraw the application for admission.