Criminal Immigration Consequences: The Petty Offense Exception
Criminal issues can cause complications for foreign nationals when they apply for certain immigration benefits, inlcluding a green card, visa, or citizenship. Even minor crimes such as petty theft or shoplifting must be discussed with immigration and can negatively effect an immigration application. This is because such crimes may be considered crimes of moral turpitude. Any foreign national that is convicted of, or admits to having committed, a crime of moral turpitude is considered inadmissible and cannot be found to be a person of good moral character. Generally, a crime of moral turpitude is defined as a “crime that is inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the excepted rules of morality." Matter of Shanu, 23 I&N Dec. 754 (BIA 2005).
However, if you are convicted of a crime all hope is not lost. Generally a minor conviction can be forgiven. Specifically, there is an exception, known as the “petty offense exception".
To qualify for the “petty offense exception", an applicant must show:
1) He or she committed only ONE crime
2) The maximum penalty possible for the crime did not exceed imprisonment for one year; and
3) The person seeking admission was not sentenced to a term of imprisonment longer than six months.
Also, it is critical that the petty offense exception does NOT apply to convictions of controlled substances or convictions involving drugs.
This area of law can be extremely confusing and complicated for the novice applicant. If you have been convicted of any offense and wish to apply for a visa, a green card, or citizenship, it is crucial you consult with an immigration attorney before moving forward.