Can I Get a U.S. Visa With a DUI on My Record?

Although one DUI is not a separate ground of inadmissibility, it could lead the U.S. consulate to refer the visa applicant to a civil surgeon for an evaluation concerning alcohol abuse.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

It's not uncommon for someone to make a one-time mistake, get into a car after having one drink too many, and end up with a conviction for drunk driving; or in legal terminology, a DUI or DWI. Is this going to present any problem for a foreign national pursuing a U.S. visa application?

One DUI Will Not Normally Make You Ineligible for a Visa to the United States

By itself, a single DUI does not automatically make a foreign-born person inadmissible to the United States. (See Crimes That Make U.S. Visa or Green Card Applicants Inadmissible and the grounds of inadmissibility in Section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.).)

But that's not necessarily the only consideration, as described next.

Abusers of Alcohol Are Ineligible for a Visa to the United States

First, if it's an immigrant visa that you're pursuing (lawful permanent residence), realize that every applicant must get past the official medical exam with a civil surgeon (a doctor) in their country. And one of the things the doctor will be looking at is whether the visa applicant might be an alcohol abuser.

As stated in a State Department set of guidelines called the Foreign Affairs Manual, at 9 FAM 302.2-7(B)(3)(U), a diagnosis of a substance-related disorder does not by itself make an applicant ineligible for a U.S. visa, "unless there is evidence of current or past harmful behavior associated with the disorder that has posed or is likely to pose a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the applicant or others in the future." A DUI or DWI could supply that evidence of harmful behavior.

Also, even if you're applying only for a nonimmigrant, temporary visa to visit the United States, it's entirely likely that the U.S. consulate in your home country will, upon seeing the drunk driving conviction on your record, refer you to a civil surgeon for evaluation before making a decision on your visa application. The FAM directs them to do so in cases where there has been:

  • a single alcohol related arrest or conviction within the last five years
  • two or more alcohol related arrests or convictions with the last ten years, or
  • other evidence to suggest an alcohol problem.

What happens after that is largely up to the judgment and expertise of the civil surgeon. You will not be allowed to see the report that the doctor prepares concerning you. If you are found inadmissible, however, you may apply for a waiver with which to enter the United States.

Getting Legal Help

Fully evaluating whether you are inadmissible and, if warranted, preparing a waiver request is best done with the help of a U.S. immigration attorney.

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