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Arrests, Convictions & Immigration Consequences

A student is arrested for DUI and fingerprinted. He returns home for vacation, and when he applies for a new student visa, his name appears in the NCIC (National Crime Information Center). The consular official denies the F-1 and cancels his tourist visa and tells him that it will take at least 5 weeks before the embassy receives the report from NCIC to determine why he is in the “system.” Although he finally gets his visa, he misses a semester of school.

You know that you have to attend school full-time and that you cannot work illegally, but arrests like the one above can affect your ability to study in the U.S. or even enter the U.S. on a student or tourist visa.

Certain behavior may not be a “serious crime” in your mind or it may not be serious for a U.S. citizen or it may not even be a crime in your country but criminal activity, arrests and convictions can have serious immigration consequences.

You need to be aware of the law and what is considered criminal activity and avoid it at all costs, but know what to do if you are arrested or convicted.

What “criminal activity” has immigration consequences?

  • Arrests and/or convictions even for crimes that may not be serious for U.S. citizens. If you are fingerprinted, this can delay visa issuance even if you are not convicted or if your record is expunged (meaning it no longer appears on your record.)
  • Willful misrepresentations on an immigration or visa application that results in securing an immigration benefit through fraud. This can also include fraudulent information in an application for admission to school if an I-20 /DS-2019 is then issued and the student uses the document to enter the U.S.
  • Drug related offenses that may or may not result in conviction, including admission of drug use.
  • Conviction for, or admission of, crimes of moral turpitude – (These are generally serious crimes but for more information, contact an attorney or CIE).
  • Suspension or expulsion from school as a result of criminal activity, whatever the nature of the crime.

What are the consequences of “criminal activity”?

  • Delays in obtaining visas - ANY arrest or conviction will cause a positive “hit” in NCIC and delay new visa issuance. It doesn’t matter if you take the record of your arrest or conviction with you to the consulate, they will still have to wait for the NCIC report.
  • Denial of visa or entry into the U.S.
  • Removal or deportation from the U.S.
  • Denial of immigration benefits in the U.S. including extension, change of status, and practical training.

How do I avoid these consequences?

  • Don’t drink and drive. While this may not be serious in your country, it is taken very seriously in the U.S. Take a taxi or have a designated driver when you go out and plan to drink.
  • Don’t do drugs. Being arrested with even a small amount of marijuana can make you deportable.
  • Don’t lie or misrepresent your actions on immigration applications or to a DHS employee. If you have concerns about something you have done, then talk to CIE or contact an immigration attorney before you are interviewed or complete an application.
  • Don’t assume that they won’t find out. Since 9/11 there is much more cooperation among government agencies.
  • If you are arrested, just like on TV, you do have the right to an attorney and anything you say can and will be used against you.
  • Make sure that you have a criminal attorney who is aware that there may be immigration consequences to any plea bargain or guilty plea and who works with an immigration attorney.
  • Remember that it is your responsibility to know the law and avoid committing crimes.

If you do find yourself in this situation, the Center for International Education can help you find a competent criminal attorney who is familiar with immigration regulations. For more information, contact CIE at 504-864-7550 or