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Effect of Expunging or Sealing a Criminal Record on Immigration

A criminal conviction can have a negative effect on a person’s application for immigration to the United States. Certain convictions immediately disqualify a person from migrating to the United States or changing status in order to stay in the country.

In most states, including California, there are certain procedures a person can follow to have a criminal record sealed or expunged, which wipes away some of the person’s criminal record. Even in situations where the person’s conviction has to be revealed to an employer, the employer is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of the criminal record. While this is a helpful process in terms of getting a job, it is not applicable for immigration purposes.

Even when a California arrest or conviction is removed from a person’s history, it still has to be reported as part of an immigration-related application. When applying for any visa, permanent residency, or citizenship, a person is required to disclose all criminal convictions both in the United States and abroad. This includes convictions that have been sealed or expunged either in California or in another state or country. When applying for permanent residency or citizenship, the applicant has to reveal even more, and reveal arrests in his or her history.

Revealing a conviction for some misdemeanors, for example driving under the influence of alcohol, does not necessarily mean that a person will be denied entry into the country if holding a nonimmigrant visa. However, if a person has multiple convictions, this could definitely affect the person’s ability to enter the country.

Providing false or incomplete information in order to immigrate to the United States could lead to the revocation of a visa, lawful permanent residency, and in extreme situations, the revocation of citizenship if the citizenship was obtained through naturalization. A person who provided false information on an immigration application may also be prosecuted criminally.

Expungement may also create a problem for an applicant who has to provide certified copies of a conviction or disposition of an arrest. Immigration officials require applicants to provide this information as part of providing evidence to prove good moral character. Expungement removes most records from central databases, and so it can make it difficult to get this information.

Not all convictions can be sealed, dismissed, or expunged, and these procedures generally only apply to some misdemeanor convictions. Sealing or expunging a criminal history in California does not take care of arrests or convictions from other states. If a person has multiple convictions in several states, he or she has to pursue sealing and expungement in all those states following the laws in those states. No matter where the expungement takes place, it still has to be reported to immigration officials as outlined above.  

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney

If you have been convicted of crimes in the United States or in another country and are thinking about applying for permanent residency or U.S. citizenship, you need to contact an experienced immigration attorney to discuss how the convictions could affect your application. Contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to experienced immigration attorney Nathan Wei from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.


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