How Past Immigration or Criminal Fraud Might Lead to Future U.S. Visa Denial

Fraud on your record can be a problem when it comes to applying for U.S. immigration benefits, but there are ways around it.

By , J.D. · UC Davis School of Law

Having fraud on your record can be a problem if you're a foreign national trying to get a visa to come to the United States. That's because to get a U.S. visa, you must be "admissible" (or not "inadmissible") to the United States, while certain fraudulent acts can make you inadmissible.

The two specific things you have to worry about are:

  1. committing a crime involving fraud and having that crime be called a "crime of moral turpitude or CIMT," and
  2. using fraud when applying for or getting a visa or related immigration documentation, admission into the United States, or some other U.S. immigration benefit.

What's Considered a Fraud Crime in the United States

A crime involving fraud is almost always seen as a crime of moral turpitude (CIMT), and having a conviction for a CIMT can make you inadmissible to the United States. Moreover, even if you were never convicted of the crime, you can be found inadmissible if you admit that you committed it, or admit that you did things that could have led to a conviction.

You can also be found inadmissible if you attempted the crime but didn't succeed, or if you didn't commit the crime yourself but conspired with someone else to commit the crime.

What exactly is fraud in the criminal sense? A fraud crime involves:

  1. a false statement about something that matters
  2. your knowledge that the statement is false
  3. your intent to deceive the person you made the statement to
  4. that person's justifiable reliance on the statement, and
  5. some kind of injury to the person based on having relied on your false statement.

When you apply for a U.S. visa, you will be asked questions about crimes you may have committed. If the visa officer sees any kind of conviction for a crime that looks like it involved fraud, you will be found inadmissible, unless certain circumstances were also present.

The first is if you committed only one crime of moral turpitude, you were under age 18 at the time, and it was more than five years before the date you're applying for the visa.

The second is called the "petty offense exception." It will help you only if you committed just one crime of moral turpitude, the maximum penalty possible for that crime was a year or less, and you weren't sentenced to more than six months in jail or prison.

What's Considered Visa Fraud in the U.S.

The U.S. government frequently refuses to issue a visa to people who lie on their visa applications, or who lied on a previous visa application, no matter how long ago.

Sometimes, the problem is fraud (when the person intentionally lies to hide something and get the visa), but more frequently the problem is a misrepresentation—an inaccuracy on the visa application, even if the person wasn't intending to get a visa by lying. Whether it's fraud or misrepresentation, the result is the same: the person becomes inadmissible. (See Visa or Green Card Denied for False Information on Immigration Forms?)

Lying on a visa application is a serious mistake. Even if your fraud goes undetected and you get your visa, if the fraud is discovered later, you'll probably be deported and it will be hard to get back into the United States.

Innocent mistakes on a visa application or when talking with immigration officials can get you into the same trouble, so always make sure you're being completely accurate and truthful when applying for a visa or applying for admission into the United States. Don't ever guess or assume—talk to an immigration lawyer if you're not sure how to answer a question.

Getting a Visa With Fraud on Your Record Using a Waiver

If you are found inadmissible for a fraud crime of moral turpitude or for visa fraud, you can get a visa only if the U.S. government grants you a waiver (forgiveness) of inadmissibility.

If you're not seeking a permanent resident visa, but rather a visa to come temporarily to the United States (a "nonimmigrant" visa), you can apply for a "212(d)(3)" or "Hranka" waiver. The government will look at the risk of harm to U.S. society if you get in, the seriousness of your prior criminal or immigration violations, and why you want to come to the United States. (See Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa (Hranka) Waiver.)

If you're seeking a permanent resident visa (an "immigrant visa"), the road is a little rougher. If your problem is a crime of moral turpitude, you can get a waiver if your fraud occurred more than 15 years before you apply for the visa, as long as you can show that you've been rehabilitated and that allowing you into the United States would not be contrary to the country's national welfare, safety, or security.

However, if your fraud crime of moral turpitude is more recent than 15 years, or if your problem is visa fraud, then you will have to prove that you have a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, parent, or child (of any age), and that it would be an "extreme hardship" to that relative if you couldn't get into the United States. (See When Is a Waiver of Inadmissibility Available for a Green Card Applicant?)

Getting Legal Help With an Immigration Matter

Having fraud on one's record can have serious consequences for one's ability to stay in or eventually return to the United States. To find out whether your deportation can be prevented, talk to an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible.

Talk to an Immigration attorney.
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