Green Card Sponsors with Criminal Records

I’m a U.S. citizen and I have a criminal record. Am I allowed to sponsor my spouse for a green card?

As part of the process of reviewing a marriage-based green card application, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducts background and security checks on both the U.S. citizen sponsor and the spouse seeking a green card. This article focuses only on the eligibility of the U.S. citizen sponsor. (For more about the impact of a criminal record on the spouse seeking a green card, click here.)

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Under U.S. immigration law, only convictions for certain “offenses against a minor” will automatically disqualify a U.S. citizen from sponsoring a spouse for a green card. These specific offenses as listed in the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (technically now part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 204(a)(l)(A)(viii), quoted here) are:

(A) An offense (unless committed by a parent or guardian) involving kidnapping.
(B) An offense (unless committed by a parent or guardian) involving false imprisonment. 
(C) Solicitation [of a minor] to engage in sexual conduct.
(D) Use [of a minor] in a sexual performance.
(E) Solicitation to practice prostitution.
(F) Video voyeurism as described in section 1801 of title 18, United States Code.
(G) Possession, production, or distribution of child pornography.
(H) Criminal sexual conduct involving a minor or the use of the internet to facilitate or attempt such conduct.
(I) Any conduct that by its nature is a sex offense against a minor.

If the U.S. citizen does not have a conviction for any of the offenses listed above, then the sponsor is not automatically disqualified from filing a green card application for his or her spouse.

It’s generally worth keeping in mind, however, that USCIS may choose to reveal any of the U.S. citizen’s prior convictions (not just those listed above) to the spouse seeking a green card.

USCIS may also ask for more information about prior convictions, even if they are not for one of the offenses listed above. USCIS has the discretion to disqualify a U.S. citizen sponsor if there is sufficient evidence that the U.S. citizen sponsor poses a risk to the safety of the spouse seeking a green card.

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