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Traveling to the United States with a Canadian Criminal Record

Aug 28, 2008: Attorney Tamara Holder interviewed by Zoraida Sambolin about your options if your child has (or you have) a criminal record in illinois. If you have ever been arrested, you have a record, even if the case was dismissed from court. Once you have been fingerprinted, you have a record and you must seek expungement, sealing or pardon to clear the record.
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Probably the most frequently asked question I receive on a daily basis is whether someone can travel to the U.S. with a criminal record in Canada.

If you have been pondering this question for yourself or for a family member, the answer depends on a couple of key issues.

Most criminal offences, but not all, will get you denied entry into the United States

For the most part, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents (those not-entirely friendly Americans tasked with protecting the U.S. borders) frown on anyone entering the U.S. with a criminal past. However, whether your past crimes get you outright denied, or just hassled unnecessarily, depends on the type of conviction(s) you have.

Not all criminal offences are considered grounds for inadmissibility according to U.S. Immigration law. The U.S. considers any crime that involved “Moral Turpitude” to be grounds for inadmissibility. A crime of “Moral Turpitude” is a crime which demonstrates the potential lack of moral character of the person who commits such an offence. 

Generally speaking, a minor crime of passion or poor decision making, such as a domestic assault or drinking and driving, will not constitute Moral Turpitude. 

Crimes of theft and fraud, crimes of a sexual nature, crimes involving significant physical violence and any crimes involving drugs, all constitute grounds for inadmissibility into the United States.

 But what if I have been traveling to the U.S. for years without being denied?

Many Canadians I deal with on a daily basis have been traveling to the United States for years with their criminal record and assumed that meant their criminal record was not an issue.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Although it has long been the policy of the U.S. to forbid entry by Canadians with criminal records, U.S border guards would rarely check. When they did see a record, they would often make a personal judgment about the traveler in question, and would waive them through, usually not even bringing the matter to the attention of the traveler.

However, everything changed with 9/11. After the September 11th terrorist attacks, the focus on border security increased dramatically, and many Canadians with old criminal records have suffered the consequences.

Do I need a Pardon or U.S. Entry Waiver?

If you have a criminal record and intend on traveling to the United States, you need to apply for either a pardon or a U.S. entry waiver.

Which one you require, depends on your circumstances.

The first thing you need to know is that the U.S.  Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) does not recognize a Canadian Pardon. If they are already aware of your criminal record, you must apply for an entry waiver, specifically known as an I-192 Application for Advanced Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant.

You should always apply for a pardon for your criminal record in Canada, for many reasons, but it will not get you into the U.S. once you have been denied entry. Why? Because when the U.S. sees your criminal record on CPIC (Canadian Police Information Centre), to which they have negotiated access, they will copy your record to their system. If you then apply for a

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