Even a minor criminal conviction can cause you to be turned away from a border crossing. Many musicians are surprised to find out that their criminal record prevents them from traveling overseas for work. I received this letter from a reader:
Our performing group will be crossing the border in July and I am concerned because of several misdemeanors I committed many years ago. I’m worried that I may be stopped at the border. What would you suggest?
First of all, everyone should realize that border crossing officials do have access to criminal records, so this is not something you can hide or ignore when you try to cross. Attempting to cross a border without declaring your arrest record can result in permanent entry ineligibility, detention in the US, or refusal of entry into Canada.
Canadian citizens with a criminal record should contact the Customs and Border Patrol office at their intended port of entry well in advance of their travel plans to determine if their criminal record will make them ineligible for entry without a waiver of ineligibility.
Factors that influence your ineligibility to enter a country include the number of offenses, the severity of the offenses, how long ago the offenses occurred, whether or not a criminal sentence was served, and if a parole or was pardon granted. The severity of offenses is determined by the criminal code of the country you are trying to enter. The Canadian Criminal Code defines a serious crime as one punishable by a maximum prison term of at least 10 years. Being granted a pardon in one country does not guarantee you will be pardoned in another country. Each case is reviewed by border officials who make the final entry determination.
Canadians entering the US, should take a copy of their conviction with them and show it to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer. If the conviction was for a minor offense, the CBP Officer has discretionary powers to allow entry into the US. If your criminal record makes you ineligible for entry, then you may apply for a Waiver of Ineligibility (Form I-601). There is a fee and the process takes several months. Non-Canadian citizens must apply for a visa to enter the US, and then apply for the same Waiver of Ineligibility. An interview at a US embassy or consulate is also required.
Americans entering Canada with previous offenses, such as Driving Under the Influence (DUI), may be treated differently in Canada. Americans attempting to cross the border into Canada with a DUI, DWI, OUI, W&R, etc., will require either a Temporary Resident Permit (if the offense occurred in the past five years) or an application for Criminal Rehabilitation (if the offense occurred more than five years ago). For more information on the Temporary Resident Permit click here. For an application for Criminal Rehabilitation click here. Dealing with these options can take up to a year.
There are exceptions, however. If the offense occurred more than 10 years ago and no jail time was served, Canadian border officials may deem an individual to be rehabilitated and allow entry and/or the issue a Temporary Resident Permit at the border, if there are compelling or urgent circumstances to allow entry. Obviously, the border officials will weigh your need to enter against the security risks to Canadian citizens.
Know the rules and your options before you try to cross a border with a criminal record.
—I welcome your questions and concerns.
Please write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. While I cannot answer every question I receive in this column, I will feature as many as I can and I promise to answer every e-mail I receive.