Criminal Grounds of Inadmissibility (or Non-Admission) in Immigration Law

Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) makes
certain classes of foreigners ineligible to receive U.S. visas or to be
admitted into the country.  Some major
grounds for non-admission or “inadmissibility” include health-related grounds,
criminal and related grounds, security and related grounds, public charge,
foreign labor lacking certification by Labor Department, illegal entrants and
violators, etc.  This article will focus
on the issue of criminal grounds of inadmissibility.  Foreigners who have a criminal background are
bound to encounter obstacles when applying for admission into the United States
either as immigrants or temporary visitors. 
Although there are some exceptions and waivers available to alleviate
the negative consequences of minor offenses, serious criminal convictions can
be a permanent bar to admission for foreign nationals. 

Foreigners subject to the Grounds of Non-Admission

Who exactly are subject to these grounds of inadmissibility?  Foreigners who are subject to grounds of
inadmissibility include individuals who are applying for admission at a U.S.
port of entry as well as permanent residents (green card holders) who are
seeking readmission after foreign travel. 
Even individuals who are physically present in the U.S. may still be
subject to the grounds of inadmissibility. 
For instance, noncitizens who entered the U.S. without having been
inspected by an immigration officer (e.g., by crossing the border) are subject
to all grounds of inadmissibility.  
Intending immigrants present in the U.S. who are seeking to adjust their
status to become permanent residents must also establish that they are
admissible under the law.    

Major Criminal Grounds of Inadmissibility

Under §212(a)(2) of the INA, the following classes of foreign aliens
are subject to the criminal grounds of inadmissibility:    
Foreigners convicted of, who admits having committed, or who admits the
essential elements of a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) or  a controlled substance violation;   Foreigners
convicted of two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentences to
confinement were five years or more;   Foreigners whom
a consular officer or the attorney general knows or has reason to believe is a
drug trafficker;  Foreigners coming
to the U.S. to engage in prostitution or commercialized vice;   Foreigners
engaged in human trafficking;  Foreigners
whom a consular officer or the attorney general knows, or has reason to believe,
to be money launders or who are coming to engage in money laundering in the

Exceptions to Crimes involving Moral Turpitude

Crimes involving moral turpitude remains to be the most common reasons
for foreigners to be refused admission to the U.S. However, the statute
provides two exceptions to the CIMT ground of criminal inadmissibility, namely,
juvenile exception and the petty offense exception.  The juvenile exception applies if the
offender committed the crime under the age of 18 and, if a term of imprisonment
was imposed, the offender was released more than five years before the date of
application for a visa or admission.  The
petty offense exception applies when the maximum penalty possible for the crime
did not exceed one year of imprisonment and, if the offender was convicted of
such crime, he or she was not sentenced to more than 6 months of imprisonment.  

Note: These exceptions only apply to the CIMT ground of inadmissibility
but not to the other grounds.

What constitutes Crimes involving Moral Turpitude

While no clear definition exists within the law for CIMTs, the term has
been held by the courts to include that demonstrate “baseness, vileness, and
depravity” on the part of the perpetrator.  CIMTs usually require the perpetrator to have
an evil mind such as an intent to defraud or an intent to harm another
person.  The most common CIMTs include fraud,
misrepresentation, theft, and other crimes against property.  Most crimes of violence involving intent, such
as murder, voluntary manslaughter, mayhem, robbery, rape, etc., also are

On the other hand, simple assault usually is not classified as a CIMT without
aggravating circumstances.  Similarly, driving under influence (DUI) is not
considered a crime of moral turpitude unless the driver harbors some sort of
unlawful intent.  For example, Under
Arizona law, the offense of aggravated driving under the influence, which requires
the driver to know that he or she is prohibited from driving under any
circumstances, is a crime involving moral turpitude.  

One’s Admission to the Crime is Enough

It is important to note that a criminal conviction is not needed for
the CIMT ground of inadmissibility to apply. 
If one admits having committed the acts or the essential elements of a
crime involving moral turpitude, than he or she can be found inadmissible under
the immigration law.  Therefore, it’s
very important for foreigners with criminal background to consult with a
qualified immigration attorney before applying for U.S. admission or permanent
resident status.   


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