Travelling to the U.S. — U.S. Entry Waivers FAQs
1. I was told that I could not legally enter the U.S. because I have a criminal record. Is this true?
Yes. Unless the person is a U.S. citizen, has Native Indian status, or has received advanced permission by U.S. immigration (U.S. Entry Waiver), it is illegal to enter the U.S with a criminal record.
2. Do all criminal convictions ban me from entering the U.S.?
Technically no. Offences not considered by U.S. law to be against moral turpitude, (such as driving while ability impaired), should not pose a problem. Practically however, U.S. border officials almost always deny Canadians entry to the U.S. no matter what the offence is. If you have been stopped at the border or if you must go to the U.S., it is prudent to obtain a U.S. Entry Waiver.
3. Does the U.S. know about my criminal record?
The RCMP is accessible to U.S. officials when you are attempting to enter into the United States. The U.S. officials will search your name and date of birth and the RCMP will give the official the individual’s criminal record information.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and/or The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will then download the person’s Canadian criminal record from the RCMP system. The U.S. file is never erased.
6. I have traveled to the U.S. many times with a criminal record. Why haven’t I been caught yet?
You may have often passed through U.S. Immigration after answering a few standard questions about your citizenship and the purpose of your trip. You have been lucky. Ever since the terrorist attacks in 2001, there have been increased precautions and an increase in the number of officials at each of the U.S. borders. Beginning June 2009, it will be mandatory for Canadians to present a passport to enter into the U.S. This greatly increases the chance of your past criminal history being exposed.
4. Can I fly to a foreign country via the U.S. with a criminal record? Do I still need to get a Waiver since I am not staying in the U.S.?
Anytime you enter the U.S. you are required to clear U.S. Immigration, even if you are only entering the U.S. en route to another country. There is a good chance your record will be revealed and you will be denied entry. In such a case, your airplane ticket will be voided. If you have a criminal record and you do not have a U.S. Entry Waiver, you should not have connections in the U.S.
5. I really need to go to the U.S. before my pardon will be granted. What are the possible results of my trying to cross the border?
There is a good chance your record will be revealed and you will be denied entry. In such a case, if traveling by plane, your airplane ticket will be voided. If traveling by automobile, in most cases you will be turned away, and in some cases your vehicle will be confiscated. It is always best to acquire a U.S. Entry Waiver prior to traveling to the U.S. with a criminal record.
7. I was stopped and refused admittance to the U.S. once because of my criminal record, but I need to try to get in anyway. What could happen?
If you are caught a second time, you will be treated much more harshly. Under the U.S. Immigration Act, immigration officers are permitted to take the vehicle you are travelling in, even if you are not the owner or driver.
If you are travelling by bus, you will be removed and sent back to Canada. If you are travelling by airplane, your ticket will be stamped VOID and you will not be able to collect cancellation insurance. It is also common, if stopped a second or third time, to be detained and handcuffed. The experience can be quite devastating.
It is much easier to get caught a second time because the U.S. have their own files pertaining to you and your criminal record, which were created the first time you were stopped. Therefore, any search they conduct will reveal this information. If you keep trying to enter the U.S. after having been refused entry, you reduce the chances of being granted a U.S. Entry Waiver which would give you permission to legally enter the U.S. with your criminal record.
8. Is the U.S. border really becoming stricter?
Yes. Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, border regulations have been getting tighter. FBI databases are now linked to the RCMP (CPIC) databases. Border guards can view criminal record details simply by typing your name into their computer terminal. Unless you obtain a U.S. Entry Waiver, you are taking a serious risk anytime you try to cross the U.S. border with a criminal record.
9. What is a U.S. Entry Waiver and why do I need one?
A U.S. Entry Waiver (Advanced Permission for Admissibility) is a document that allows people who have been convicted of a criminal offence to legally enter the U.S.
10. Who decides if I get a U.S. Entry Waiver?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reviews your application and has the authority to grant you a U.S. Entry Waiver.
11. What is involved in applying for a U.S. Entry Waiver?
Waiver applications are reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The requirements from DHS regarding the waiver application are quite specific and change frequently. It is best to consult one of Pardons Canada’s counsellors.
12. How long does it take to get a U.S. Entry Waiver?
Collecting and preparing the application forms and all of the supporting documents can take anywhere from 3 to 10 months. It will take between 5 to 12 months for DHS to review your application. Therefore, it is best to start the Waiver application well in advance of the date that you wish to enter the U.S.
13. How long does a U.S. Entry Waiver last?
Waivers are issued for a period anywhere from 6 months to 5 years after which time they must be renewed. In rare cases, such as where a person has been refused entry for an offence that is not considered to be against moral turpitude, a person may receive a permanent document to be used when crossing the border.
How long a Waiver will be issued for is dependent on the nature of the offences, when they occurred, the length of the criminal record, the individual’s personal situation, and many other factors. Although the granting of a Waiver is subjective, Pardons Canada has a very high success rate if we prepare your application for you.
14. Once I have a Waiver can I go to the United States whenever I want?
With a U.S. Entry Waiver you may travel freely between borders so long as the Waiver is valid and you bring all other documents that you would normally need to cross the border. U.S. Entry Waivers expire and must be renewed if you wish to continue traveling to the U.S. The waiver must be carried along with your passport as part of your travel documents.
15. If I have a U.S. Entry Waiver is there any risk that I will not be admitted to the U.S?
Having a U.S. Entry Waiver allows you to legally enter the U.S. with a criminal record. However, anyone can be refused entry to the U.S. for various other reasons based on security issues at the port of entry.
16. Do I need to apply for a U.S. Entry Waiver, even though I haven’t been refused entry to the U.S. What should I do?
If you absolutely MUST travel to the U.S. before your Canadian criminal record is pardoned or destroyed, you may need to apply for a U.S. Entry Waiver to legally enter. Essentially, you will be admitting and giving details about your criminal record to the U.S. federal government. Once a Waiver application is submitted the FBI will download the details into their files and they will never be removed, regardless of a Canadian pardon. You will then need a Waiver for the rest of your life.
If it is not necessary to travel to the U.S. right away, it is best to remove your Canadian criminal record first. If you have never been stopped at the U.S. border it means that they do not know about your criminal record. After your record is pardoned or destroyed, the U.S. border officials do not have access to it.
17. If there is a family emergency in the U.S. do I still need to get a U.S. Entry Waiver before going there?
In some circumstances an Advance Permission/Parole permit (I-131) can be obtained from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Homeland Security and/or USCIS, which is a permit that allows the applicant to enter the U.S. while their Waiver application is being processed. However, such permits are only granted for urgent humanitarian reasons, emergency medical treatments or to attend a funeral of a close family member.
18. Does a U.S. Entry Waiver have limitations?
Yes. U.S. Entry Waivers are only issued for a specific period of time. However, you may enter the U.S. multiple times until the Waiver expires.
19. When can I apply for a U.S. Entry Waiver?
You can apply for a U.S. Entry Waiver at any time.
20. What other documents will I need to attach to my U.S. Entry Waiver application?
That depends on what you were charged with, how long ago you were charged and why you need to enter the U.S. Our counsellors will carefully review your situation and ensure your application and supporting documents are properly prepared for U.S. Immigration.
21. Can a U.S. Entry Waiver application be denied?
Yes. There are several reasons why a U.S. Entry Waiver may be denied; such as, if you do not prepare your U.S. Entry Waiver application correctly, if you do not show sufficient rehabilitation (where applicable), if you submit confusing or contradicting supporting documents.
Pardons Canada has been preparing successful U.S. Entry Waiver applications for 20 years. Consequently, our counsellors can advise you and properly prepare the application on your behalf, taking into account your personal circumstances.
22. If I have been granted a Canadian Pardon do I still need a U.S. Entry Waiver?
If you have ever been refused entry at the U.S. border because of your criminal record, it means that the U.S. authorities have retained a copy of your criminal record. Unfortunately, U.S. Immigration does not recognize a subsequent Canada Pardon. The U.S. government will never erase or seal such records. Consequently, you will require a U.S. Entry Waiver.
If U.S. Immigration officials have never accessed your criminal record using the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), and you obtain a Canada Pardon, that will remove your criminal record information from CPIC . This means that the U.S. will not have access to this information.
23. Can I immigrate to the U.S. or obtain a work authorization if I have a criminal record?
If you are considering immigrating to the U.S., or applying for a U.S. work authorization, you will need to undergo a police clearance. If you have a criminal record, it will negatively affect your application, and may result in your application being denied. At a minimum you will be required to do additional paperwork. Applying for a pardon before applying for immigration or work status in the U.S. is strongly recommended.
24. Do you assist with FAST Cards and Work Visas?
We endeavor to provide up-to-date information regarding the requirements and procedures to obtain these documents, especially when a U.S. Entry Waiver or Canadian Pardon is one of the requirements, and is being processed through our office.
25. Can I apply for a Waiver by myself?
The general public is welcome to prepare their own application. However, most choose not to as it is an extremely subjective, difficult and lengthy process and the rules and policies change without notice. There is no one available at the DHS offices to assist individuals in preparing their own application. Because we have been successfully preparing Pardons and Waivers for 20 years, the process is very straightforward for us at Pardons Canada. Our counsellors can answer questions specific to your situation.
26. If I am not a Canadian citizen but am a permanent resident of Canada can I still apply for a Waiver to enter the U.S.?
If you are a permanent resident of Canada and you have a criminal record, in addition to obtaining an U.S. Entry Waiver, you will also need to acquire a Visa. The process is similar to that of a regular Waiver, but the U.S. government processing time is actually faster. Pardons Canada can prepare both of these applications for you.