Can I travel to America with a criminal record?




IT depends.


It depends on the conviction i.e. what kind of conviction it is.

If you’ve been convicted of road traffic offences (generally speaking) then this should pose no difficulty in travelling to the United States.


But if you have convictions for violence (e.g. assaults), property offences (e.g. robbery, burglary, theft) or drugs you will -understandably- find it almost impossible to gain entry.



United States Homeland Security agents sometimes
scour social media accounts to see whether the Applicant
has posted pictures of themselves either consuming drugs
or being around those that have.



Broadly speaking, entry to the United States is governed by three criteria:


· Crimes involving Moral Turpitude

· Crimes not involving Moral Turpitude

· Crimes involving Controlled Substances


Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude.


The first thing you notice about this category of offence is the inclusion of “morality” as an indicator of criminal culpability. Most countries focus on issues which may point to your character in deciding whether to grant you entry i.e. actual criminal convictions or arrests.


The United States is different. In almost no other jurisdiction does this semi-religious element (morality) help define entry to a country. The reason has probably got something to do with the power that religion wields in America.

No other industrialised country is quite so religious

According to Gallup approximately 47% of all Americans belong to a church, synagogue or mosque. In the UK it is 5%.


____


WHEN APPLYING for a VISA to the United States you will be required to fill in an electronic travel authorisation form (ESTA). These have been mandatory since 2009. These forms are made up of questions which you must answer.


One question asks whether you have been “arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority”.

What qualifies as “serious damage” or “serious harm” is not clearly defined, but it is connected to whether or not the offence was one which involved ‘moral turpitude’ or not.


Crimes not involving Moral Turpitude


Offences generally regarded as not involving “moral turpitude” include drink driving and other road traffic offences.


These kinds of offences are ones which do not involve “intent” or “mens rea”.

You cannot be convicted of theft unless you intended to steal and you cannot be convicted of fraud unless you intended to defraud someone.

But you can be convicted of most driving offences (e.g. drink driving, dangerous driving, careless driving, speeding) without intending to commit those offences. So the element of “intent” is key here.


Crimes involving Controlled Substances


If you have convictions for drugs you will either find yourself either temporarily or permanently barred from travel to the United States.

So, a conviction for drink driving and possession of cannabis will be treated far more harshly than one for drink driving alone.


You will be asked whether or not you use drugs. If you answer “yes” your application will be immediately rejected. If you’ve ever been found to be in close proximity to drugs your application will very likely be rejected.


In carrying out their checks on applications received the United States Homeland Security agents sometimes scour social media accounts to see whether the applicant has posted pictures of themselves either consuming drugs or being around those that are.









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