Can You Enter the United States With a Criminal Record?

By Donna Johnson
You, the United States, a Criminal Record
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All foreign citizens who wish to enter the United States must apply for a visa unless they are exempt under the Visa Waiver Program. If you have a criminal record, you must always apply for a visa. Certain crimes may prevent you from entering the United States.

Terrorist Activity

Terrorist activity--including threats, highjackings or assassinations--is grounds for visa denial. This rule also provides for denial if you incite terrorist activity.

Moral Turpitude and Controlled Substances

A criminal record including crimes involving controlled substances or moral turpitude, such as rape or robbery, may prevent you from entering the United States. You may be exempt from this rule if you committed the crime when you were under 18, and have waited five years or more prior to applying for a visa. The maximum sentence for your crime must be one year or less, and your actual sentence must be no more than six months.

Multiple Offenses

Conviction for two or more offenses may result in visa denial. The only exception is if the combined sentence for all offenses is less than five years.


If you engaged in prostitution within ten years prior to applying for a visa, you will not receive one. Receiving proceeds from prostitution will also disqualify you.

Other Crimes

Other crimes that may prevent you from entering the United States include trafficking in controlled substances or humans, money laundering and previous crimes in the United States for which you asserted immunity. Receiving proceeds from these crimes will also result in visa denial.

About the Author

Donna Johnson is a writer from Louisville, Ky. Her articles have appeared on several websites since 2009, including Her areas of expertise include parenting, crafting, and home improvement. Prior to becoming a writer, Johnson had more than 10 years of experience in home improvement retail.