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Denied Entry Due to Prior Criminal Conviction? Nonimmigrant Waiver May be the Answer

It’s not unusual for our office to get a call from a frantic traveler — someone who has been to the U.S. countless times over the years — who is now faced with a Customs and Border Protection officer refusing admission to the U.S. based on a prior criminal conviction. As technology continues to evolve, CBP and other Homeland Security agencies now have access to more globally integrated databases and may be able to see criminal convictions that in the past were not previously in their systems.

Due to the close relationship between the U.S. and Canada, the inability to enter the U.S. freely can be devastating. Many Canadians enter the U.S. for business and work reasons, family matters, medical care, vacations and shopping. Even if a conviction has been pardoned or happened many years ago, it can surface at any time.

All travelers seeking to enter the U.S. should consider the following:

  • Do you have any criminal charges and/or convictions from anywhere in the world, regardless of how long ago it was or how minor the charges? If you do, those charges may render you inadmissible to the U.S. Typical offenses that render a person inadmissible include fraud, theft or crimes relating to controlled substances.
  • Were you previously removed or denied entry from the U.S.? This could pose problems for future entries.
  • If you are a Canadian citizen, you should be aware that Canadian pardons are not recognized by the United States for immigration purposes. Even if you have a Canadian pardon, you might still be inadmissible to the U.S.

What Can You do?

If you are faced with a CBP officer who is refusing you entry to the U.S., first and foremost do NOT argue with the officer. Try to gather as much information as you can regarding the issue that is preventing the officer from allowing you to enter the U.S. You may be allowed to “withdraw” your request for entry and may be given a form with the specific reason for refusal. Keep that form in a safe place as it will be important in determining what options you have available to you in the future.

Contact Berardi Immigration Law to review your case. Even if you are found to be inadmissible to the U.S., you may apply to the CBP for a nonimmigrant waiver which waives the exclusion grounds and allows you to cross the border. In certain instances, CBP may refuse an individual incorrectly even if there is a criminal record.

Berardi Immigration Law can also analyze the charges and/or conviction and determine if a waiver is warranted or if the conviction qualifies for the petty offense exception. If a waiver is required, we will work with you to prepare a comprehensive packet to be filed with the CBP in support of your waiver application.


If I do file a waiver request, how long will it take to get an answer? The Admissibility Review Office (ARO) is reporting that waiver requests submitted at a land border port of entry are taking at least 130 days from the date of receipt to process. They advise, “A full review of circumstances may take up to six months or longer depending on the complexity of the situation and completeness of the application.”

If I get an approval, am I free to come back into the U.S.? The ARO typically issues a first-time waiver for only one year. They have the discretionary authority to issue the waiver for up to five years but that rarely occurs in a first-time filing. Subsequent approved applications tend to extend the time granted until the five-year waiver is eventually issued.

If you reside in Southern Ontario or Toronto and have been advised by a Customs and Border Protection officer that you need a criminal waiver to enter the U.S. due to a prior criminal conviction, contact Berardi Immigration Law for a free consultation. Managing partner Rosanna Berardi will personally review your case, determine if the CBP’s request is valid and help you formulate a strategy to secure your future admissibility from Ontario or anywhere else in Canada into the U.S.