Legal Blog

What to Know Before Renewing a Green Card after an Arrest

If you are a permanent resident renewing your green card, it is important to be aware that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will review any criminal records.[1]

There are several crimes considered as deportable offenses, including some criminal offenses that lack a conviction. When filing Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card[2], the USCIS charges a fee for the applicant to undergo a criminal background check. The USCIS’ approach to reviewing an applicant’s criminal history has shifted over time.  A crime that was not a deportable offense years ago could now elicit deportability.


An arrest should not prevent you from renewing your green card. A green card is needed for obtaining employment, renewing a driver’s license and for traveling abroad. There is a legal obligation for any legal permanent resident (over 18) to carry a valid green card with them.

At the Biometrics Appointment

After filing the Form I-90, the applicant will receive a notice for the date, time, and location of their scheduled biometrics appointment. This appointment is used to collect the applicant’s fingerprints and photographs which will later be used to create a new green card and to run a criminal background check.  To check for any criminal records or immigration violations, the USCIS will send the collected data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) where it will be checked against several law enforcement agencies databases.

Deportable Crimes

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) there is an extensive list of what crimes are deemed deportable. Just because a crime is considered a felony in one state does not determine that it is a deportable crime. Furthermore, a misdemeanor at state level could still be deportable upon USCIS review.

Below is a list of types of offenses that could make you deportable when renewing a green card:

  • An aggravated felony
  • A crime of moral turpitude within five years of receiving a green card
  • Two deportable crimes at any time
  • A sex crime
  • A drug crime
  • Domestic violence
  • A firearms offense
  • A fraud-related offense

Aggravated Felony

The INA’s definition of “aggravated felony” can be misleading, as in many cases it includes crimes that are neither “aggravated” or a “felony.”  Someone convicted of a crime not charged as a felony in their state could be still be seen by USCIS to have committed an aggravated felony and deported. Congress has continued to expand the definition of “aggravated felony.”[3] Aggravated felony is defined in loose terms in the Immigration Nationality Act, Section 101(a)(43)[4] as any of the following:

  • Murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor
  • Illicit trafficking in a controlled substance including drug trafficking crime
  • Illicit trafficking in firearms or destructive devices or in explosive materials
  • Money laundering or engaging in monetary transitions in property derived from specific unlawful activity if the funds exceeded $10,000
  • An offense in explosive materials or firearms
  • A crime of violence for which the term of imprisonment was at least 1 year
  • A theft offense or burglary for which the term of imprisonment was at least 1 year
  • Kidnapping, demand for receipt or ransom
  • Child pornography
  • Racketeering or gambling if the sentence of at least one-year imprisonment could been imposed
  • Owning, controlling, managing or supervising a prostitution business; transporting for the purpose of prostitution if committed for commercial advantage, or peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or trafficking in person
  • Gathering or transmitting national defense information, disclosure of classified information, sabotage, treason, or compromising undercover intelligence agent’s identities
  • Fraud or deceit in which the loss exceeds $10,000 or tax evasion in which the revenue loss to the government exceed $10,000
  • Alien smuggling, except in the case of a first offense for which the alien has affirmatively show that the alien committed the offense for the purpose of assisting, abetting, or aiding only the alien’s spouse, child or parent
  • Illegal entry into the U.S. by an alien who was previously deported on the basis of an aggravated felony conviction
  • Document fraud, falsely making, forging, counterfeiting, mutilating, or altering a passport or instrument for which the term of imprisonment is at least 12 months; except in the case of a first offense for which the alien has affirmatively shown that the offense was committed for the purpose of assisting, abetting, or aiding the alien’s spouse, child or parent
  • Failure to appear for service of sentence if the underlying offense is punishable by imprisonment for 5 years or more
  • Commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery or trafficking in vehicles with altered identification numbers, if the term of imprisonment is at least one year
  • Obstruction of justice, perjury, or subornation of perjury, or bribery of a witness for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year
  • Failure to appear before a court pursuant to a court order to answer to or dispose of a charge of a felony for which the sentence of 2 years’ imprisonment or more may be imposed
  • An attempt or conspiracy to commit an aggravated felony

Renewing a Green Card After an Arrest for a Drug Crime

Any conviction of a crime involving drugs or drug paraphernalia is potential grounds for a denial of a green card renewal and can trigger removal proceedings. The only exception is possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana, however this conviction could still lead to inadmissibility. A permanent resident planning on traveling abroad should discuss with an attorney prior to their travels if a waiver of inadmissibility is necessary for reentering the U.S.

Renewing a Green Card After an Expunged or Vacated Conviction

Some expunged or vacated convictions may still be treated as convictions when renewing a green card. Some of these criminal activities that can make someone deportable or inadmissible without a conviction are: marriage fraud, immigration fraud, were there is reason to believe a non-citizen was involved in trafficking of controlled substances and holding oneself out to be a U.S. citizen (even if it was for a job application).

If you’ve been convicted of a crime and need to renew your green card, schedule a consultation. Our office can advise you on potential risks and options before filing a USCIS immigration form if you have any criminal history.