Can Immigration Look At Your Expunged Record?

Can Immigration Look At Your Expunged Record?

It isn’t easy to immigrate to the United States. The process can be long and complicated, but for the more than 878,000 people who became new citizens last year, it’s worth it. Expungement, or the process of sealing your criminal records, is also worth it, because it can help you find employment and housing. But if you came here as a child and made a few mistakes when you were young, or you’re looking to apply for a green card, you might be wondering: Can immigration look at your expunged record?

Can Immigration Look At Your Expunged Record?

In short, yes – immigration can look at your expunged record. Because immigration is a federal process, agencies like the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) essentially ignore state laws about expungement. The USCIS website states that “an expunged record … does not relieve the applicant from the conviction in the immigration context.”

The USCIS runs thorough background checks on immigration applicants, including your entire history since birth – even records from other countries. During the immigration process, they’ll run your fingerprints through the federal database. Most often, crimes that have been expunged at the state level will still show up.

What Expunged Records Can Immigration See?

When you get a full expungement, it removes the case-related court records from state databases, including the arrest, charges (even if they were dismissed), and crimes where you were found not guilty. Immigration will still be able to see all of these records, but they’ll be most interested in criminal convictions and Victim Protective Orders (VPOs).

Immigration agencies’ job is to determine whether you threaten public safety or national security, so only certain crimes are likely to prevent you from being granted a visa or citizenship. They’ll also take into account your age at the time of the crime and what you’ve been up to since then. Let’s get into the details.

Can Immigration Look at Juvenile Records?

What if you came to the U.S. as a child and you have a juvenile record? In Oklahoma, you can expunge a juvenile record if:

  • You’re at least 21 years old
  • You have no pending charges against you
  • You haven’t been convicted of any other crimes

While immigration can look at your expunged record from when you were a juvenile, they’ll generally make an exception for minor offenses. If you can demonstrate that you’re now a productive member of society, you should be able to pass immigration.

When Can Immigration Look at Your Expunged Record?

There are a lot of situations beyond applying for citizenship when immigration might run a background check on you and see your expunged record. Let’s go over them.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Nonimmigrant visas include visitor and work visas. In the U.S., these are:

  • B-1 visa: For business travelers visiting temporarily
  • B-2 visa: For tourism travelers visiting temporarily
  • H-1B visa: For workers in certain fields who are sponsored by a U.S. employer

For B-1 and B-2 visas, immigration may not run such a thorough background check. They’re more likely to see your expunged record during the H-1B visa process. And, if you’re in the U.S. on any of these visas and you commit a crime, they’ll not only check your record, but probably deport you.

Immigrant Visas and Naturalization

Immigrant visas, officially called Permanent Resident Cards but most often called “green cards,” let you live and work permanently in the U.S. They’re the first step toward citizenship, but they’re not always easy to get. You can typically get a green card by:

  • Being sponsored by a relative who is a U.S. citizen, like a spouse, parent, child, or sibling
  • Applying for a Diversity Visa, which provides limited green cards to people from countries with low immigration rates
  • Going through an employer, especially if you’re a skilled worker or have an advanced degree

Naturalization is the process of applying for and being granted citizenship. You can generally file Form N-400 for citizenship once you’ve been a permanent resident for five years, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen.

Immigration can look at your expunged record for any of these processes – and they definitely will. If you do have a crime on your record, you could be considered “inadmissible.” But what does that mean? That’s up next.

What Expunged Crimes Can Prevent You From Immigrating to the U.S.?

Whether you’re applying for a work visa, green card, or naturalization, certain crimes can prevent you from immigrating to the U.S., even if they were committed in another country. Here’s what the Immigration and Nationality Act considers to be crimes that could make you “inadmissible,” even though you can sometimes expunge them in Oklahoma:

  • Controlled substances: Violating or conspiracy to violate any law related to controlled substances, other than a single offense for marijuana possession.
  • Firearm offenses: Illegally purchasing, selling, offering for sale, exchanging, using, owning, possessing, or carrying a weapon.
  • Domestic violence, stalking, and child abuse: Any crime of domestic violence, which is violence against a child, partner, spouse, or roommate.
  • Violation of protective orders: Engaging in behavior that violates a protection order issued by a court.

If you do have any of these on your record, you can apply for an immigration waiver. A waiver for a nonimmigrant visa requires you to prove that you don’t pose a threat to society. A waiver for a green card is more difficult to get: You’ll have to have a spouse, parent, or child who is a citizen or permanent resident, and you’ll need to prove they will “suffer extreme hardship” without you.

Crimes You Can’t Expunge

The rules vary from state to state, but in Oklahoma, you can generally only expunge misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, and only to a point. Not only can immigration look at your record of the following crimes, but they’re much more likely to keep you out of the country:

  • Violent felonies
  • Failure to register as a sex offender
  • Trafficking
  • Crimes of moral turpitude, which include murder, manslaughter, rape, spousal or child abuse, animal fighting, and fraud

Does It Matter That Immigration Can Look At Your Expunged Record?

Here’s the thing: You’re required to disclose all of this anyway. Your application, especially if you’re applying for citizenship, will require you to write down any arrests, convictions, and charges in your past, even from another country – and even if they’ve been expunged. It’s always best to be honest, because they will look at your record during the process. The arm of the U.S. government is long, and they’re sure to dig up your past. If you weren’t honest, they’ll almost certainly deny your application.

The Bottom Line

While immigration can look at your expunged record, expungement has a variety of other benefits. In fact, the federal government is one of very few organizations who can see an expunged record. Employers, landlords, and nosy coworkers or family members can’t see it, and you can legally deny that the crime happened. That makes it much easier to get a job or housing. An experienced lawyer can help you figure it all out, so contact the Tulsa Expungement Guy today.