Any non-citizen of the United States (whether living inside or outside the U.S.) who wants to get a visa or green card should take care to avoid what’s called “inadmissibility”in the immigration law world. This legal concept is explained further in Nolo’s article “Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out”, but it essentially means that one cannot enter the U.S. or get either a visa or green card due to issues like medical or criminal history.
Domestic violence isn't actually named as a crime that can make a person inadmissible -- but it can result in inadmissibility nonetheless, as described in this article.
The most common way in which a domestic violence conviction could make a noncitizen inadmissible and, therefore, not able to obtain a U.S. visa or green card if it matches what’s known in the immigration world as a “crime of moral turpitude”(CMT). A crime of moral turpitude is something that shocks the conscience or is deemed “inherently base, vile or depraved.”For more on this, see Nolo’s article, “What’s a Crime of Moral Turpitude According to U.S. Immigration Law?”.
The decision of whether a particular person’s conviction for domestic violence is a CMT is made by either an immigration judge or U.S. government official, depending on where the person is within the process of applying for an immigration benefit or fighting deportation. Even if the judge or official determines a particular domestic violence crime to be a CMT, however, the analysis isn’t over. There may still be an exception that it falls under.
A domestic violence crime could fall under the petty offense exception, if the maximum jail time the person could have been sentenced to was one year or less and the person was not sentenced to more than six months of imprisonment. If it qualifies for the petty offense exception, then the applicant would still be eligible to receive the visa or green card if he or she had no other immigration issues (criminal or otherwise).
Applicants for U.S. visas or green cards may face even harsher consequences after a domestic violence conviction if the crime matches what’s known in immigration law lingo as an “aggravated felony.” This would put the person at risk for mandatory detention, deportation, ineligibility for relief from deportation, and even a permanent bar to reentering the United States.
A domestic violence conviction may be viewed as an aggravated felony if it is considered to be a “crime of violence”(defined at 18 U.S.C. §16). If the crime on record was intentional, included force, and the order for imprisonment was for more than one year, the crime is likely to be considered a crime of violence and thus, an aggravated felony under U.S. immigration law.
The record of conviction (the written law for the crime, the charging documents, plea agreement and transcript, sentence, and jury instructions) will determine whether the domestic violence crime is a crime of violence and an aggravated felony. It is VERY important to understand that police reports (the document made by police detailing the crime or incident) are not included in the record of conviction unless a person agrees that the facts in the report are true. So if a non-citizen already has a conviction for domestic violence, it is in the person’ best interest to keep the police report out of consideration for the issue of an aggravated felony. That’s because the report may include comments that the noncitizen (or other person involved) made to the police that could elevate the crime to the level of a crime of violence or aggravated felony.
If you already have a domestic violence crime on your record, speak with an experienced immigration attorney for a full analysis of whether it makes you inadmissible.
If you have been charged with domestic violence, but haven’t yet received a final conviction, it’s also worth bringing in an immigration attorney. You may be able to plead down to a lesser crime – but the exact definition of that crime will be important, in order to avoid the possibility of deportation and exile from the United States. Specifically with domestic violence, your best bet will likely be to plead to something that does not include a sentence of more than 364 days - perhaps simple battery or assault.