International students and arrests
Although most of us will never be arrested in our entire lives, it does happen to some international students each year. Common misdemeanor or felony arrests can include theft, drunk driving, shoplifting (stealing goods from a store without paying for them) and drug possession (with or without intent to sell).
It is important to distinguish between the arrest and the judgment or resolution of the case. A person might be arrested and charged, but the case may be dismissed, the charges may be reduced or you may only have to pay a fine or do community service instead of going to jail.
However, regardless of the outcome of the case, the arrest record will eventually find its way into the U.S. government's federal databases, and will then appear in the record when someone applies for a U.S. visa or attempts to enter the United States.
The U.S. visa application asks the following question: Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime, even though subject of a pardon, amnesty or other similar legal action?
Some USCIS applications ask similar questions.
Even if not convicted, you must still answer the question "yes" if you have been arrested. In such cases, it is essential that you have with you documents issued by the court that address the original charges, and the subsequent disposition of the case.
If you are entering the United States, you may be stopped by the Customs and Border Protection Officer at the inspection booth if the officer sees an arrest or fingerprint record reported in the database. That officer may take you to a separate interview area. As with the visa application, it is essential that you have with you documents issued by the court that address the original charges, and the subsequent disposition of the case. A letter from the lawyer who assisted you that explains the charges and the judgment is also helpful.
Thus, any arrest, regardless of the outcome, may be something that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Always obey the laws.
Anyone with concerns regarding the effect that a previous arrest may have on future U.S. visa applications or U.S. entries should consult a qualified immigration attorney. If you are being represented by a criminal attorney, there is a free legal service in New York state, run by the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA), where criminal attorneys can consult with a member of NYDSA if they have questions about the impact of immigration law on criminal proceedings for their client. You can contact NYDSA with questions as well either through their website or by phone at 518-465-3524.
Thanks to Stephen Yale Loehr of the law firm of Miller Mayer in Ithaca, New York for contributing to this article.