Our clients are often concerned about the effect a criminal conviction could have on their ability to travel to the United States. If you are convicted of a criminal offence in Canada, that conviction could have repercussions on any future plans to enter the United States. The US has strict entrance laws for foreign visitors with criminal records.
Under American law, foreigners may be denied entrance to the United States if they are deemed to be “inadmissible” by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. There are three categories of criminal behaviour that render an individual inadmissible.
Categories of Inadmissibility
These categories are so comprehensive that, in practice, almost any Canadian with a criminal record is likely ineligible for entry to the United States.
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A conviction for one of the offences listed above has the ability to render an individual inadmissible to the United States. However, U.S. law uses a very broad definition of the term conviction. U.S. law recognizes that an absolute discharge from a Canadian criminal court does not qualify as a conviction for immigration purposes. However, a Canadian conditional discharge is considered a conviction for US immigration purposes. This means that if you were charged with a criminal offence which falls into one of the categories of inadmissibility and you were granted a conditional discharge you are likely ineligible for entry into the United States. A conviction from a Canadian criminal court likewise qualifies as a conviction under U.S. immigration law and leads to inadmissibility.
Furthermore, under US immigration law, even if you are acquitted at trial or the charges against you are stayed, you may still be deemed inadmissible to the U.S.. This can happen in two different ways. First, if you admit to committing a crime but you are nonetheless acquitted by a Canadian court that acquittal is a deemed conviction for US immigration purposes. This could happen, for example, if you admitted to committing a crime at trial but were acquitted based on a successful claim under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The second way you may be deemed inadmissible, regardless of having been acquitted by a Canadian court, is if you admitted at trial to committing acts which constitute the essential elements of an offence. An acquittal (where you do not admit committing a crime or committing certain acts which constitute all the essential elements of a crime) does not render you inadmissible to the U.S.
There are some types of criminal behaviour which can render an individual inadmissible even if they have never been convicted of a crime. This occurs when an Immigration Officer knows or has reason to suspect that an individual has engaged in two specific types of criminal behaviour.
There are a number of exceptions to the laws which govern this type of inadmissibility. For example, a Canadian conviction which, had it been committed in the U.S., would have been treated as an act of juvenile delinquency under U.S. federal guidelines will not count as a conviction for U.S. immigration purposes. This means that if you are convicted of a crime committed before your eighteenth birthday you likely will not be deemed inadmissible to the United States. There are also some circumstances where a single conviction for a CIMT will be overlooked for immigration purposes. If you have committed a crime and want more information on your eligibility to enter the United States visit the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection website at: http://www.cbp.gov/ or contact a local immigration lawyer.
If you have a criminal record which renders you ineligible for entry into the United States, you may be able to enter the U.S. if you obtain an entry waiver or a criminal pardon in Canada. If you are pardoned in Canada, the offence will not appear on your record when you attempt to enter the United States. If however, you have made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the United States, the offence will already be on record with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, and you may have to obtain an entry waiver to enter the US.
The best way to make sure you are able to enter the United States is to avoid a criminal conviction. If you are facing criminal charges be sure to contact Kostman & Pyzer, Barristers, to ensure that a criminal accusation does not become an impediment to your ability to travel.