“If I have outstanding criminal charges can I still to travel to the U.S.?”
“Will I be stopped at the U.S. border if they see I have a criminal record from the past?”
“If my criminal charges have been stayed, am I cleared to travel to the U.S.?”
As a lawyer, I am often asked the above questions. So, what are the answers.
Firstly, it is important to realize that travelling to the United States is a privilege and not a right for Canadians. There are several factors that determine whether Canadians can cross the United States border, an important factor being their criminal record.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) officers exercise unlimited discretion over whether or not a non-U.S. national can cross the U.S. border. The Q and A below should provide some clarity into how a criminal record impacts a person’s ability to travel to the United States.
Do I have to disclose my criminal record to the U.S. Border Officers?
In my opinion the answer is “YES” you should and here is why: Through a shared agreement with Canada, the U.S. CBP officers have access to the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database. This database includes an individual’s criminal record any where in Canada and may also include charges that have been withdrawn, stayed or acquitted. The CBP officers can use this database to view an individual’s criminal record and prior criminal history. Even without disclosing your criminal record, CBP officers can access your full criminal history on the CPIC database.
Any questions asked by the CBP officers should be answered truthfully. Disclosing your criminal record to CBP officers may include informing them of any withdrawn charges, discharges, stay of proceedings or acquittals.
Will a criminal record prevent me from travelling to the United States?
NOT NECESSARILY. A criminal record may impact your ability to travel to the United States. However, it is entirely up to the specific U.S. CBP officer at the port of entry to determine whether or not they will allow you to cross the border. CBP officers will consider an individual’s criminal record and can use it as a basis to deny entry to the United States.
Single convictions or small misdemeanors may not be sufficient grounds for denying entry into the United States. For example, a single impaired driving conviction may not necessarily prevent entry. However, an impaired driving conviction in combination with other misdemeanor offenses can be used as a basis to deny entry.
If a criminal record includes a crime of moral turpitude it may be very difficult to gain access to the United States. Crimes of moral turpitude have no specific definition in law and the meaning varies across different states. Crimes of moral turpitude typically involve crimes against others such as aggravated assault, certain crimes against property, sexual crimes, and crimes against the authority of the government.
Because CBP officers have unlimited discretional authority, it is difficult to say for certain whether a specific crime will make an individual inadmissible. The CBP officers will consider the nature of the crime when exercising their discretion. Even individuals with criminal records that appear to be minor can be denied entry to the United States.
It is also important to keep in mind that individuals who do not have a criminal history can still be denied entry. Entry to the United States is based entirely on the discretion of the border officers and many err on the side of caution when exercising this authority.
Will a pardon allow me to travel to the United States?
NOT NECESSARILY. The United States does not recognize Canadian pardons or record suspensions. Even if you have received a pardon in Canada, it
will not guarantee entry to the United States. The CBP officers will still have access to past criminal records and a pardon granted by the Canadian government may not be sufficient to allow entry to the United States.
How can I travel to the United States if I have a criminal record?
If your criminal record makes you inadmissible, you may still be eligible to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility.
The waiver application must be completed in advance of your date of entry. The application process can be lengthy, costly and may not be applicable to all individuals. Obtaining a waiver is one way to gain entry to the United States. However, there is no guarantee that the waiver will be granted.
If a waiver is granted, it allows you to travel to the United States but only for a specified period of time.
As you can see, there is no exact answer as to whether a specific criminal record will prevent travel to the United States. CBP officers have wide discretion and can deny entry to anyone for any number of reasons. Individuals with a criminal record should be prepared for the possibility of being denied entry to the United States and can consider applying for a waiver if they are eligible to do so.
The information provided on this website does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. Moustarah & Company does not guarantee that this information is accurate or up to date. As a result, should you require legal advice, please contact a lawyer.