How Can I Get a Green Card When I Have a Criminal Conviction?


The destination that is permanent resident status can be arrived at using many different paths. Many take different paths toward that destination. Some try to obtain permanent resident status through a marriage-based petition, a family-based petition, and others through an employment-based petition—these are just a few ways through which to obtain permanent residence status. Once the petition is approved, and the priority date becomes current, one can see the destination that is permanent resident status on the horizon. For many however, that horizon is seemingly very distant because of a criminal conviction. Often, a criminal conviction is seen as a “road block” toward permanent resident status. However, a criminal conviction should not be seen as the end of the road, just short of permanent resident status. Despite a criminal conviction, one can still obtain permanent resident status and a green card.

Under the INA, a person who commits certain crimes is ineligible to receive a visa and ineligible to be admitted to the United States. This means that a person who has an approved petition, and who has a current priority date enabling him to apply for adjustment of status may not be able to obtain a green card due to his criminal background. Certain criminal convictions bring with it the inability to adjust status, no matter how long ago the crime was committed. Those accordingly with a criminal conviction in the past are often left in a state of despair. A dream unfulfilled.

However, those persons with a criminal conviction should not despair, and should keep the dream alive. Why? Because a procedure exists through which despite the commission of a crime, a person may still be able to obtain permanent resident status. The procedure focuses on the hardship that certain United States relatives of the alien would experience should the alien be denied admissibility and be ordered to leave the United States. If a sufficient showing of hardship to a United States citizen relative is shown, a person may still be able to obtain permanent resident status and a green card despite having a criminal background. The ability for a person to obtain a green card by one who has certain criminal convictions can potentially depend on whether or not a sufficient showing can be made of hardship to the United States citizen relative.

Needless to say (but it will be said anyway), presenting a case for hardship requires a thorough understanding of the law. A good case must be made for the hardship to be experienced by the U.S. citizen relatives should the alien be ordered to leave the country. All avenues must be explored, so that a case for allowing permanent residence may be properly presented which overcomes the general rule of inadmissibility when one has a criminal background. Because the issue often comes at the adjustment stage, it is highly recommended that you consult with an experience attorney prior to the filing of the adjustment package.

Please note that this article is not legal advice and is not intended as legal advice. The article is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This article is not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. This article does not create any attorney-client relationship between you and the Law Offices of Kenneth U. Reyes, P.C. This article is not a solicitation.

Attorney Kenneth Ursua Reyes was President of the Philippine American Bar Association for 2005. He is a member of both the Family law section and Immigration law section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Mr. Reyes is a Certified Family Law Specialist. He is a graduate of Southwestern University Law School in Los Angeles and California State University, San Bernardino School of Business Administration. He has extensive former CPA experience prior to law practice. LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH REYES, P.C. is located at 3699 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA, 90010. Tel. (213) 388-1611 or e-mail; visit at

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