Travelling to USA with criminal record: Requirements and How to Apply

Travelling to USA with criminal record: Requirements and How to Apply

In this article

The US has strict entry rules and one of the key questions that are asked on the ESTA application is: “Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?”
The United States is an amazing place to visit, with so many famous sights and stunning cities, beaches and everything you need for a great holiday. There are so many different types of holiday across the US too, from taking a coast-to-coast road trip,to relaxing on Miami Beach, or even a wild week in Vegas! Those are just a few of the most popular options and we haven’t even mentioned the Big Apple yet!
Anyway, before you get anything planned and book your flights, it is important to understand that it can be more difficult to gain entry into the US than most other countries. There is a strict set of eligibility criteria that is in place to monitor who is entering the US and to enhance security by approving only the people that Border Security deem as low risk.
If you have a criminal record, you may not be granted permission to enter the US, as depending on the type of record, you may be deemed as a risk and the government will decline your application for an ESTA or other kind of visa.

What criminal convictions can cause an ESTA to be denied?

However, different types of criminal offenses are treated in different manners. For example, minor traffic offenses which do not lead to a conviction will be considered as a lesser offense and your visa application or ESTA application should be accepted, providing there are no other issues that affect your eligibility. There is no definitive list of acceptable criminal convictions, as each application will be processed on the full information provided, however it may help to know the questions that you will be asked related to criminal activity on an ESTA application:
  • Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?
  • Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?
  • Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?
  • Have you ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States?
  • Are you currently seeking employment in the United States or were you previously employed in the United States without prior permission from the U.S. government?
  • Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa you applied for with your current or previous passport, or have you ever been refused admission to the United States or withdrawn your application for admission at a U.S. port of entry?
  • Have you ever stayed in the United States longer than the admission period granted to you by the U.S. government?
  • Have you traveled to, or been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011?

How long do convictions affect your US visa applications?

There is no exact timeline for convictions to no longer affect the outcome of your ESTA visa application. Each applications will be assessed in terms of severity and consideration will sometimes be made if the conviction was a significant time earlier but many applicants may never be eligible for a US visa due to their criminal convictions, s the border control look to prevent serious offenders from entering the US on grounds of security.

Provide details of your criminal record

You have the right to see convictions and criminal records, including arrests in some states. The criminal record is a collection of criminal records and arrests and the information in the record varies from state to state and even from county to county.
In addition to the visa application, the arrest/conviction information must be completed on a personal data sheet (VCU-01). The information must provide the details of the arrest/warning/conviction. This form must be completed electronically.
You can refer to the ACRO police records, in case you do not know the details of your arrest or conviction.

Provide official confirmation of your criminal record – Police certificate

For those who need to provide an official confirmation of their criminal record, they can do that by applying online or by post, but not by email or fax.
Only those applications that are made on the ACRO Police Certificate application form will be accepted. The older versions of the application may be rejected, so it will be convenient to check that you are completing the most recent version of it.
Applicants applying for a visa at the US Embassy must present a police customs clearance certificate from the National Police Commissioner's Council (NPCC) Criminal Record (ACRO) issued within six months of the visa interview. You must obtain this certificate before filling out your personal data sheet so that we can provide you with the exact details of each arrest/conviction.
The US Embassy will retain the original police certificate. It will be good to make a photocopy of the certificate, so you can have it on the day of the interview, and a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

What if I was convicted in the United States?

In this case, you are required to obtain a court record from the court in which you were tried. The record must show the penalty, what section of the law is contravened, and the nature of the offense that is committed.
There are cases where the arrest did not end or result in a conviction. In these cases, you may submit with your application the documents relating to the arrest. A sworn statement is submitted in case you are no longer in possession of the documents, which will give the reason and location of the arrest, state, and county.

How long do convictions affect your US visa applications?

The USA is not recommending that travelers who have been arrested, attempt to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program. For example, a "simple attack" can affect your ability to obtain a nonimmigrant visa, even if the minor criminal conviction is not CIMT. Consulate officials have reasonable discretion in making visa decisions.
If you have been recently convicted for a minor offence or a serious assaults, consular officials, even minor ones, may not be confident that you will comply with US law when you travel to the United States.

How can I increase my chances of being successful?

It is very important that you state your circumstances and highlight the most important facts that are supporting your case. Important factors to increase your chances of being successful include:
  • The reason for traveling to the USA with a criminal record
  • If you have family ties in the USA
  • Express remorse regarding your conviction
  • Must show a change in your character - good moral character
  • The financial ability to fund your stay
  • Having a paid job in the USA
  • Provide as much information as possible to hand to the interviewer
Who can apply for an ESTA?
If you are heading to the US for a short visit of less than 90 days then an ESTA visa should be all that you need in the form of travel authorisation if you are a citizen of a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program such as the UK. However, if your planned trip is for longer than that limit then you will need to apply for a relevant type of visa instead e.g. working visa or permanent residency if you are eligible.
Applying for an ESTA is easy and can be completed using an online form in a matter of minutes, getting processed usually very quickly.

What happens if an ESTA is denied?

If your application is rejected, you are able to reapply after ten days, but if your circumstances have not changed then it will be rejected again. When you apply for an ESTA, even if you do not disclose any criminal convictions on your application, a check will be made to see if you have any on file. If you were found to have a criminal conviction then your application will be denied.
There are a number of other reasons that your application could be denied, such as if you previously overstayed the time allowed on your ESTA visa, or the details you provided in your application were incorrect. If you have entered incorrect details then you can reapply, ensuring that you enter the correct details. It is very important that you complete your application carefully to avoid entering incorrect information, as every application requires another fee to be made and it will considerably delay the process.
If your ESTA is denied then you can apply for a US visa, where you will be required to arrange an appointment at the US Embassy to undergo an interview. During this process, your information will be assessed and you will pay a fee for the application, even if you are denied a visa. The two common types of visa that you may be able to apply for the Visitor Visa and the Business Visa. The application
What eligibility questions are asked for an ESTA application?
The following questions form the eligibility section on an ESTA application:
  1. Do you have a physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict; or do you currently have any of the following diseases (communicable diseases are specified pursuant to section 361(b) of the Public Health Service Act): Cholera, Diphtheria, Tuberculosis infectious, Plague, Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers, including Ebola, Lassa, Marburg, Crimean-Congo, Severe acute respiratory illnesses capable of transmission to other persons and likely to cause mortality?
  2. Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?
  3. Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?
  4. Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?
  5. Have you ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States?
  6. Are you currently seeking employment in the United States or were you previously employed in the United States without prior permission from the U.S. government?
  7. Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa you applied for with your current or previous passport, or have you ever been refused admission to the United States or withdrawn your application for admission at a U.S. port of entry?
  8. Have you ever stayed in the United States longer than the admission period granted to you by the U.S. government?
  9. Have you traveled to, or been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011?

Written by Abisola Fikayomi

Abisola is an accomplished writer interested in US Travel, immigration, passports and visas. She’s passionate about exploring new places and cultures and willing to share her experiences, expertize and findings with others. That is her primary drive for specialising in this industry.




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