Sometimes people gain criminal records for minor offences that were essentially silly mistakes rather than hard crimes. Unfortunately, the consequences for such actions may end up being long-term and problematic, even if the offence happened in the distant past, and the person can prove that they are a good moral citizen with no intent to engage in further offences.
It’s usually impossible to completely erase a criminal record. However, with the right plan, you can free yourself from some of the resultant issues.
Travelling is just one right and freedom granted to citizens that can be challenging with a criminal record. If you attempt to travel from Canada to the United States (U.S.) with a record, you may not be allowed to cross, in which case you will likely be detained.
The good news is that you may still be able to travel from Canada to the U.S. without a problem. You can start this process by obtaining and filling out a U.S. Waiver Application.
What to Do If You Have a Criminal Record in Canada and Wish to Travel to the States
Plenty of people from Canada visit the U.S. on a regular basis without too much hassle at the border. But if you have a criminal record, going south of the border can be risky. If you do have a criminal record—even something minor from long ago—you risk being turned away and possibly even being restricted from entering the U.S. at all. There is also the potential for detainment in this situation.
If you have been found guilty of a crime and had the charges withdrawn or stayed, you may still face problems at the United States-Canada border. This drawn-out process is not only humiliating but will undoubtedly ruin your trip, if not cause further problems with your records. U.S. officials may also fingerprint and question you.
To avoid detention or questioning, you should have a very clear picture of your past offences and where you stand legally. But the main thing you need to do is complete a U.S. Entry Waiver application that you should carry with you as you cross the border. This waiver is the only way to ensure that you can pass from Canada to the United States with ease.
What Is a U.S. Entry Waiver Application?
A U.S. Entry Waiver, also known as Advanced Permission for Admissibility (form I-194), allows people with previous criminal records to come and go freely between the U.S. and Canada.
If you have not yet been officially pardoned via Pardons Canada, you can get a waiver that comprises details about past offences so that it stays on U.S. records. This admission is mostly a process of honesty and clarity so that they fully understand the situation.
You may have already crossed the border with little to no hassle in the past. The truth is, for the past several years (since September 11, 2001) the U.S. government has been closely monitoring entrances to the country. Now FBI and RCMP databases are linked so they can communicate with ease.
Technology allows for instant recognition of anyone with ID, which is why having a U.S. Entry Waiver is the best way to ensure that you are safe and secure when crossing the border. You do not want to take the risk of passing through the border and getting detained or worse.
How Long Does a U.S. Entry Waiver Last?
Once you have a U.S. Waiver, it will likely be valid for at least a year. The length of time that it is good for will depend on the decision made by the Admissibility Review Office (ARO), but it could be valid for up to five years. Permissible length of use will depend on your application’s quality, the crime committed, your rehabilitation efforts, and a few other factors.
A U.S. Entry Waiver allows you to come through to the United States as many times as you need, but you are not allowed to remain in the U.S. for longer than three months. You will be able to use the document to travel through border crossings and into any state. Sometimes you can get a permanent document if the offence is not “against moral turpitude.”
Bear in mind that if you receive a waiver, you will have to start the renewal process well in advance, because it can take six months to a year to get the first one. If you have a waiver and are wondering about renewals, contact Pardons Canada for more information.
You may be wondering which crimes apply to the U.S. Entry Waiver and the answer is pretty much anything. However, the U.S. does classify some crimes as “against moral turpitude.” These crimes are those that contradict the community standards and morals – in other words, those that have an outward effect on society as a whole. This definition is somewhat antiquated, so crimes that fall under it may not seem evident at first. If someone in Canada commits a crime under this classification and is caught and convicted, they will not be allowed into America.
There is a comprehensive list of these crimes, and some may seem more severe than others.
Examples of such crimes include:
- Child abandonment
- Gross indecency
- Harboring a fugitive (with guilty knowledge)
- Mail fraud
- Involuntary or voluntary manslaughter
- Willful tax evasion
Here are some examples of crimes that don’t fall under the category of moral turpitude:
- Drunk Driving
- Prison escape
- Disorderly conduct
- Gambling, liquor and lottery violations
- Minor traffic violations
Petty offences are exceptions to the crimes of moral turpitude and are classified if the penalty is less than a year or if the person was in prison for a maximum of six months. If your situation is not a petty offence, you’ll need a U.S. Travel Waiver to enter America on land or by air.
How Do You Get a U.S. Entry Waiver?
To obtain a U.S. Entry Waiver, you will have to include several documents and complete quite a bit of paperwork as you go through the process.
Some examples of files to include will be:
- Valid proof of citizenship
- Biographic information
- Court and police records
- Documentation of rehabilitation from the crime
Be advised that your fingerprints will have to be certified by officials on both the Canadian and American side.
During the application process, procure any other documents that you think might strengthen your case. Any supporting evidence that can prove you are not going to be a threat to the American people means that your application will have a better chance of getting approved by the ARO.
You absolutely will want to get help with your U.S. Waiver Application from start to finish to ensure that the forms are filled out correctly since even a small error could set your application back by months at a time.
You May Be Rejected from Entering the U.S. on Other Grounds.
Even if you complete a U.S. Waiver Application successfully and obtain the waiver, it’s important to note that there are some extraneous security reasons why you may not be allowed to enter the U.S. Thus, a waiver does not guarantee entry. Here are some examples of other reasons why you (or anyone) may be denied entry.
If you have a communicable disease such as Gonorrhea, Leprosy, Class A Tuberculosis, or some other physical or mental disorders, you may be refused entry. You will be denied if you’ve not been vaccinated. Be aware of any new alerts from the Center for Disease Control and always be sure to carry relevant medical and vaccination documents with you when you travel. In some circumstances, you may acquire a waiver that will allow you to cross the border with a communicable disease.
False Claims & Immigration Problems
If you have ever falsely claimed to be a citizen or tried to cross the border with fake documents, you may be banned for life from entering the U.S., according to the Immigration and Nationality Act; and a waiver will not be able to help you in this scenario. The same is true for fraudulent acts related to immigration benefits.
Political Affiliations or Leaving the U.S. Under Unusual Circumstances
You will need to obtain a travel waiver if you have ever had a security-related violation or been a member of a political party that is or has been considered a threat to U.S. foreign policy such as the Nazi Party.
If you exited America against the armed forces permission and this situation was never resolved with the U.S. government, you will likely have an outstanding warrant and therefore be barred from entering the U.S. again.
If you have previously left the U.S. under unusual or unclear terms, a border agent will likely feel that they have a right to stop you.
Special Circumstances for Entry or Denial
You may also be disallowed from entering the U.S. if you:
- Practice polygamy
- Are the guardian to an alien minor
- Have a history with or a connection to child abduction
- Have citizenship issues related to U.S. tax fraud
Note that border agents now have the right to search all of your digital devices and refusal to comply puts you at risk of being denied entry.
Do You Need a U.S. Waiver Application Even If You’ve Been Pardoned?
In the eyes of American law, unfortunately, a pardon or record suspension itself is not enough to guarantee your passage through the border. You have to consider that these agents will not be familiar with Canadian pardons and are also obligated to comply with U.S. law; therefore, there are grey areas as to what determines a legitimate criminal background.
Pardons mean your criminal conviction is removed from the Canadian federal database, but it stays in American databases, so customs agents see your entire record. They have all the data despite any suspensions or pardons, and they are generally unfamiliar with the Canadian legal process. Therefore, while there is a chance they won’t stop you, it’s better that you do not risk appearing as a threat.
U.S. officials keep all convictions on file, so when they look you up, they will see the conviction as still legitimate, even if it was pardoned, old, or dismissed. Some people believe that you can convince border agents with merely a pardon, but be careful what information you read on the internet.
Should You Get Help with Your U.S. Waiver Application?
Many things can go wrong with your U.S. Waiver Application, which is a relatively lengthy and complicated set of forms. You can certainly fill out the application on your own, but you should know that it’s a complicated process and sometimes policy can change without warning. The U.S. standards are so rigorous that you need to ensure you’re doing everything right on the front end.
If your application contains conflicting information, if you don’t demonstrate attempts to heal or recover from your crimes, or if you don’t include the correct documents as supporting evidence, you risk having your application denied.
Be aware that it can take from six to twelve months to get the application processed and reviewed by the ARO. While their decision is subjective, we can tell you that the majority of requests processed with Pardons Canada are successful.
Pardons Canada is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to offering Canadians the best possible chance of obtaining the freedom and rights they deserve after criminal offences. We have over 30 years of experience advising people with criminal records on how they can normalize and enrich their lives.
Pardons Canada can help you prepare your U.S. Waiver Application and will do everything possible to counsel you through the process, ensuring that everything is done correctly. Contact us today to find out if you qualify for a U.S. Waiver.