Applying for U.S. Residency With a DUI

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Applying for U.S. residency with a DUI can add complications to the process. An immigrant that is charged with a DUI offense may face additional legal consequences in addition to driver’s license revocation and criminal penalties. The legal process following a DUI arrest can be daunting, but there are ways for immigrants to avoid hurting their visa status.

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How a DUI Arrest Affects Immigrant Status

In some cases, a DUI arrest, charge, and conviction can negatively impact an immigrant’s visa status in the U.S. Upon arrest, police will take fingerprints and photographs of the suspect, which then go into the national database. This data will be in the system permanently, and it will appear whenever an immigrant applies for benefits such as visa renewal, naturalization, and work authorization.

If you want to apply for U.S. residency, you will need to report a charge, arrest, conviction, fine, indictment, or imprisonment for driving under the influence (DUI) or other similar criminal charges. While you might be afraid of applying for U.S. residency with a DUI because of potential consequences, you may still be able to gain residency status with a criminal record. 

If you have a DUI on your record and you want to apply for U.S. residency, there are some important things to know during the application process.

What Is a DUI?

A driving under the influence (DUI) offense involves a driver who operates a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In most cases, you could face a DUI charge if you operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher. This BAC level indicates that your blood contains 0.08% alcohol, which has the ability to severely impair your judgment and driving ability.

DUIs could also result from the use of other types of drugs, including illegal and legal drugs. Even if a person is only taking prescription drugs, these drugs could lead to a DUI conviction if the driver is impaired because of them and operates a vehicle. 

In any case, a DUI is a relatively serious crime and can count as a felony or misdemeanor, depending on the nature of the crime.

Does a DUI Affect Immigration Status?

While some crimes may not prevent you from changing your immigration status in the U.S. and gaining residency, others are more serious and could keep you from getting a green card or another form of documentation when adjusting your immigration status.

The short answer is that, yes, a DUI can negatively affect your immigration status, but it depends on the specific circumstances. For example, if your DUI is a first-time offense, and you don’t have any additional charges such as manslaughter that make this an aggravated DUI, you shouldn’t see too much of an impact on your immigration status. 

However, certain situations may warrant the denial of your application and could lead to more serious consequences. Specifically, convictions of crimes of moral turpitude could hurt your chances of gaining residency and citizenship within the U.S. because of their particularly serious nature.

What Is a Criminal Conviction for Immigration Purposes?

Before you can understand how a DUI might impact your immigration status, it’s important to understand what a criminal conviction is and how it relates to immigration law.

If someone is convicted of a crime, this means that the court has deemed a defendant guilty of the crime or that the defendant has admitted guilt in the crime. In some instances, it could also mean that the individual has simply refused to plead guilty or not guilty of a crime. A criminal conviction comes with certain types of consequences, which could include jail time, prison sentences, fines, and other forms of punishment.

Regardless of what your state’s definition of a conviction is, federal immigration law’s definition takes precedence. This means that even if you don’t need to serve a sentence for a criminal conviction, you will still have a conviction under federal U.S. law if your criminal status falls under its definition. 

If you receive a conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, this could have a significant effect on your immigration status and limit your ability to gain permanent residency.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude

Convictions of crimes of moral turpitude can come with serious consequences for perpetrators. If people convicted of these types of crimes attempt to apply for an adjustment of immigration status in the United States, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may deny their applications. In fact, in more extreme cases, these convictions may warrant deportation.

There are several types of crimes that fall under “crimes of moral turpitude” according to U.S. law, although there are no strict definitions for particular crimes. Some examples of these convictions include:

  • The majority of sex offenses
  • Offenses involving defrauding or stealing
  • Offenses involving reckless behavior resulting in serious bodily harm to victims
  • Offenses involving intentional acts such as attempted murder that result in bodily harm to victims

If someone has committed and received a conviction for any of these acts, USCIS may opt to not only deny an application for an adjustment of status, but the agency may also cite this conviction as a reason to deport the applicant.

Can a DUI Conviction Prevent Me from Getting a Green Card?

When applying for U.S. residency with a DUI, you might wonder, “Will the DUI affect immigration status?” You may also wonder more specifically, “Will my DUI affect green card applications?” 

Ordinarily, DUI convictions won’t necessarily have any effect on your green card or immigration status. A DUI and citizenship aren’t necessarily tethered to each other. However, if your DUI involved any type of crime of moral turpitude, it could negatively impact your status. 

In most cases, a DUI doesn’t count as a crime of moral turpitude because of the lack of intent behind it. You may not be aware that you’re unfit to drive and choose to operate a vehicle without any intent to cause harm to individuals. Your conviction may also lack various aggravating factors such as driving without a license, driving recklessly, getting a DUI with a record of previous offenses, or using illegal substances.

However, if you do operate a vehicle while under the influence and you’re guilty of an aggravated DUI or another separate offense involving a crime of moral turpitude, USCIS may not grant you residency and deem you inadmissible.

According to most states, a DUI offense falls under the definition of a simple or aggravated offense, which won’t lead the U.S. government to label you “inadmissible” or deny your green card. 

Determining an Applicant’s Moral Character

When USCIS reviews your application, one step the agency will take is to determine if you are of good moral character. If you have good moral character according to USCIS, this indicates that you wish to gain residency in the U.S. on good faith and are likely to help contribute to the progression of society in the U.S. However, if USCIS determines that you are of poor moral character, this could hurt your chances to gaining admission into the U.S.

In determining moral character, USCIS doesn’t simply look at your charges and criminal conviction. The agency will also decide whether your criminal record shows that you have good moral character. 

For example, USCIS may find that you aren’t of good moral character if you have committed aggravated felonies in the past, have a reputation as someone who drinks to the point of drunkenness, or have over 180 days of incarceration behind you.

Applying for U.S. Residency with a DUI or Reckless Driving Charge

If you’re worried about a DUI and immigration consequences, you typically won’t need to worry about this offense affecting the green card application process. The steps for applying for U.S. residency will normally be the same as when you apply without a conviction.

The following is the immigration process you can expect when applying for U.S. residency with a DUI or reckless driving charge:

1. Determine Eligibility

The first step before applying will be to gauge eligibility. If you have not committed a crime of moral turpitude or otherwise have a criminal record that USCIS may interpret as a demonstration of poor moral character, your DUI or reckless driving offense shouldn’t have too much of an effect on eligibility.

Of course, you will also need to meet all other criteria to be eligible to apply for U.S. residency. For example, you may qualify for a green card if you have family members who can sponsor you or if you have a potential employer sponsor. You may also be able to gain entry into the U.S. as a refugee or otherwise want to request asylee status. Additionally, you may be eligible for immigration to the U.S. if you fall under other immigrant categories that qualify.

2. Determine Which Process for Your Application

The next steps you take to apply for U.S. residency will depend on whether you’re currently in the U.S. or outside of the U.S. If you have received a DUI while in the U.S., you would apply for Adjustment of Status, which would entail filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. You would file this form with USCIS.

On the other hand, if you are outside of the U.S. and wish to apply for a green card, you will need to go through consular processing via the U.S. Department of State (DOS).

3. Applying for Your Green Card

The next part of the application process will involve actually applying for your green card. This typically involves the following steps: 

  • A sponsor such as a family member files an immigrant petition on your behalf, but you may be able to do this on your own in certain situations.
  • Upon approval of the petition, you can then file a visa application through the DOS or a green card application through USCIS.
  • USCIS or the DOS will require you to submit biometric data such as photos for facial identification and recognition along with fingerprints and an identifying signature.
  • USCIS conducts an interview with you to further gauge eligibility for approval. At this interview, you would disclose a DUI or another conviction, charge, arrest, or another action revolving around an alleged crime or conviction. USCIS can then determine whether these details will impact your application and its approval or denial.
  • USCIS makes a decision and notifies you of this decision. 

Renewing a Green Card With a DUI Conviction

In addition to struggling to apply for a green card with a DUI on your record, you may struggle to renew your documentation. The same step will apply to renewing a green card as when applying for a new green card. You must report this conviction to USCIS, at which point the agency will begin to determine whether your record demonstrates good moral character. 

To show that you have good moral character, you may be able to show how your life has improved and the steps you’ve taken to change following the initial crime and conviction.

When the Offender of a DUI is in the Country Unlawfully

If someone is in the country illegally, the individual won’t face deportation for a DUI. Instead, his or her unlawful presence in the U.S. would put him or her at risk of deportation in these cases. The arresting officers and police department would likely find out that the arrestee is undocumented when looking into the arrestee’s records and processing him or her.

Waivers for Inadmissibility After a DUI

If USCIS deems someone inadmissible because of a DUI or another offense that doesn’t involve a crime of moral turpitude, immediate family members of the offender may be able to access a limited waiver to help stop removal proceedings in these instances. However, individuals submitting this waiver must be able to prove that the offender would undergo extreme hardship if inadmissibility, removal, or deportation were to take place. For example, the individual may face unjust persecution if he or she returned to his or her country of origin, which may help keep the individual in the country.

How an Immigration Lawyer May Help

If you or a loved one has a DUI and believe this could affect immigration status, hiring an immigration lawyer may be in your best interest. A DUI immigration lawyer can help determine what options are available to you in your case, including whether your DUI conviction could affect your ability to gain admissibility and citizenship in the U.S.

A deportation defense attorney may also be able to help defend you if you face deportation because of an offense involving a crime of moral turpitude. These attorneys provide immigrants with representation to build a case that may help prevent the client’s removal and deportation, potentially by proving that the case didn’t involve a crime of moral turpitude or that the individual hasn’t demonstrated a lack of good moral character as a result of his or her conviction.

In addition, an immigration lawyer may be able to provide various other services if you or a loved one need assistance with the immigration process.

Determine How a DUI Could Affect Your Case

In the event of a DUI arrest, charge, or conviction, it’s important to know how this may affect your case. Often, a DUI won’t necessarily impact your ability to receive a green card and gain residency in the U.S. On the other hand, a DUI with aggravating factors and other crimes could indicate to USCIS that you don’t have good moral character, which could not only prevent you from gaining residency but could also lead you to face removal and deportation. 

An attorney may be able to work with you to determine the influence on the success of your case when applying for U.S. residency with a DUI.