Visas/criminal records to USA please help?!

You're meant to apply for a visa to visit USA if you have a criminal record or been arrested EVER. But loads of people are just ticking NO to questions about convictions on the plane, travelling without visa and getting by no problem. However I'm sure with my luck we'd be stopped and that would be the end of our dream Disney holiday before it had begun. I know your criminal record cannot be linked to your passport when it's scanned otherwise all the people with past convictions would not be getting through under the Visa Waiver Programme. Some people apply for the visa and don't get it- or they get it but get refused entry into the US anyway so no wonder people are lying about their criminal records. I have convictions for theft/ breach of peace/no TV license from 16 years ago approx. Partner has 2 thefts/ 2 or 5 breach of peace from 10 years ago and a drink driving from 5 years ago. Does anyone think that one or both of us would be refused a visa and/or entry into the US? I'm worried sick - holiday is already booked and kids are looking forward to it.
20:53 Sat 02nd Sep 2006
 
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The only way to find out for sure whether you can get visas is to apply for them. The process takes about 5 months and is explained in my posts here:
http://www.theanswerbank.co.uk/Travel/Question 262180.html

As you've stated, many people lie and get in under the Visa Waiver Program. US immigration officials have no direct access to UK criminal records (although the US government continues to press for this). Some information is automatically shared between the UK and the USA. This is likely to include details of people convicted of offences involving drugs, firearms, explosives or sexual misconduct but is unlikely to include the types of offence which you refer to. If you decided to 'chance it' you'd probably get in but, in my opinion, it would still be wisest to 'play safe' and apply for visas.

Chris
Question Author
Thank Buenchico - But wouldn't there be a risk of being refused visas if we apply for them. I mean all it will take is for one of us to be turned down and thats the whole thing ruined for all the family. I guess I'm thinking that the US Consulate might think it looks bad us BOTH having criminal records. I've also read that they are very strict and can turn people down even for trivial reasons. And what if you are turned down? Can you still try to go anyway under the waiver programme and just deny any offences? Or after applying for a visa I suppose they might be watching out for you trying to get in (after all we would have had to give the Embassy the details of the planned holiday and the exact datees/times of flights) and could be making sure you don't get in? I honestly don't mind the hassle of having to do anything, whether it be travel to London, get my fingerprints taken in the US etc. - What I mind is the fear of not knowing if our holiday will be ruined. If I could only be sure we wouldn't be turned down here (for the visa) and in the US (by port authority)........
Question Author
We're not a threat to national security - we're just a family who want to take our children to disney world.

I hadn't realised it would be so dificult for people who have broken the law in the UK - no matter how long ago and no matter how petty or serious the crime.

Surely these measures are not going to really affect the threat of terrorism? Instead of putting so much effort, resources and time into questioning and checking people with past offences of ANY kind - surely it would be better to filter out more serious offenders or people who pose a real threat to everyone? After all the tourists travelling to the US from the UK want to be protected on the planes and whilst in the US too! But these measures just seem to cause upset amongst genuine holiday makers instead of reassuring us that the proper procedures are in place to protect the US from really dangerous people.
(2-part post):

I think that you've summed up your problem by saying " If I could only be sure we wouldn't be turned down here (for the visa) and in the US (by port authority)". Unfortunately, you can't be sure either way.

It has to come down to a personal choice: Do you want to board the plane knowing that there's a chance (however small) that you could be refused entry to the USA on arrival or would you rather get the matter sorted out ('for better or for worse') prior to travel?

Personally, I'd go for the 'official' route and apply for visas. At least you'd know, one way or the other, whether the US authorities will let you enter their country. Of course you risk that you might have your application turned down, in which case you'd lose money and upset your children. The alternative, however, is to risk being denied entry on arrival. You'd be forced to leave (at your own expense) on the first scheduled flight back to the UK (which could cost you thousands of pounds) or being held, effectively in prison, until the date of your return flight (which would be far more distressing for your children).
I know that there are a few people who post here on AB who would tell you that it's easy to get into the USA by lying on the Visa Waiver Program forms. They may well be right. Personally, however, I would hate to board a flight, with excited children, fearing that the US authorities might refuse to let the family enter the USA.

I'm not trying to lecture you but it's a simple statement of fact that you were wrong to book the holiday before you'd sorted out the visa problems. The path you follow from now has to be a personal decision. From my point of view, it's better to risk a financial loss (and some relatively minor distress to the children) than to take the chance of putting the family through the major trauma of being refused entry into the USA.

I've tried to give an honest opinion of your difficulties. Others may differ but nobody will be able to 'wave a magic wand'. By booking the holiday without first sorting out your visas, you've put your family into a difficult position. From now on it has to be a matter of personal choice. I still recommend the 'official' route (by applying for visas) but, at the end of the day, you have to make your own 'risk assessments' and balance possible financial losses against your children's happiness.

Chris
Question Author
I honestly didn't know before booking the holday that you couldn't enter the US on the visa waiver programme. I had checked on the net and read an undated page that said everyone from the UK travelling to the US had to have a visa - then I found what I supposed was an updated version which said that now all UK travellers could enter visa free under the visa waiver programme (it didn't mention anything about criminal records). It honesly never entered my mind that there was any problem at all. All I understood was the importance of having the correct up to date passports and the correct hand luggage due to the recent terrorist plots. So we honestly didn't realise at the beginning - probably also due to the fact that recent visitors to Florida that live near by (with criminal records) never mentioned anytihng either (about visas) as they had just ticked no to criminal records on the plane.

I realise the best thing to do is to apply for the visas - but you mentioned that you'd hate to be on a plane (without a visa) worrying that you'd be sent home once you got to the US - well that can still happen if you have the visa! In fact it's like holding up a red flag when you get off the plane saying "Look at me customs, I'm a criminal who had to get a visa just to get here" Therefore you are taken to one side and questioned for a couple of hours without your family present and they decide whather or not to let you in (not the US consulate in London when applying for the visa) So what happens to our children while we're being questioned? Or is it one at a time at 2 hours each? We are due to arrive in Florida at about 7pm approx so that means being held until late at night (probably missing our rep etc) It's such a lot of worry to cause people.
The measures regarding criminal convictions are nothing to do with the terrorist threat - they have been in place for years, since well before the waiver scheme came in.

The longer ago and the less serious the crimes, the more likely you are to get a visa if you apply - and the less likely the US will know about them if you go for a waiver and don't declare them.

Note the worst possible thing to do is to apply for a visa waiver and declare the crimes - you probably won't even get the chance to explain what they were.
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I just don't understand how people have been found out at the US port of entry? I'm talking about people who have entered under the visa waiver programme and not admitted to a criminal record. I've read things in other forums where peole have been pulled to one side by customs (in us) , whether it be random or otherwise and their criminal record has been discovered. Can this be true? Some people say that the US can't possibly find out if you have been arrested (I think there might be exceptions for murder, rape etc) but surely they cannot possible find out if you have a criminal record?
"I just don't understand how people have been found out at the US port of entry?"

It's by the same token that Customs officials all over the world uncover smuggled drugs - these guys just have a "feel" for it, and can invariably spot the ones to pull aside, even if they don't initially know what they have uncovered.

I join the others above in advising that, at the end of the day, you must assess the risks and act accordingly. Your Call.
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Yes but a drug smuggler is going to be giving off a different "vibe" from someone who was perhaps convicted of shoplifting 15 years ago and is just trying to go on holiday. Also a drug smuggler gets found out for sure as he probably has the drugs in his suitcase - but people with criminal records don't carry the record with them so how can the US officials know???? Unless you admit to having a record I can't see how on earth they can find out?

The more I read, the more I'm afraid to apply for the visas as it does seem that you are treated like a piece of dirt if you admit you've broken the law. I've always wanted to visit America but If I had realsied all this at the start I think I might have booked for Eurodisney instead.
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I also realise that these measures are not just to do with terrorism, and that they are generally to protect the US from "undesirables" but surely it's just ridiculous? What I said before still applies - Surely it would be better to filter out the really dangerous people or real threats to the US instead of treating everyone with a record like vermin?

A system where if you have areally bad criminal record and know that you won't get a visa, you can just risk it and bluff your way in (as most people do) is not working. But if you are honest and admit to a record, you might not get in? What a nightmare!
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Does anyone know if customs (either side) check your driving license? My partner's clearly shows a DR30 (which is a drink driving offence) from just over 5 years ago.
customs will not examine your licence, they won't necessarily assume you have one.

but the car rental company will; you need to check your hire company's terms and conditions concerning driver eligibility and DUI, disqualification, etc.
Question Author
I checked the web site from the holiday company and it does not say anything about driving offences committed in the UK - only mentions offences committed while you have the rental car in the US. So I'm going to have to ask the agents I booked with.

It looks like we're just going to have to apply for the B-2 visas and hope for the best. It just frustrates me that there are so many people passing through unchecked and we'll have to stand at the US port of authority being grilled like public enemy no.1 after applying for visas and admitting to criminal records - and risk losing everything.

Thanks to all who have given advice. I do wish I could find people with past similar convictions who have applied for visas and have returned from the USA who could share their experience(s)
Drink driving (a single offence at least) is not in the US a crime of moral turpitude and does not therefore need to be declared on the visa waiver application form.

I understand where you are coming from Deppster. You have obviously turned your lives around and I wish you well.

However, certain influential sections of US society are very intolerant of petty crime - in some states you can be jailed for life for 3 fairly minor crimes - your partner might just have qualified depending on the precise circumstances. This percolates through into their immigration law.

Rather than having an immigration officer decide what's a minor crime and what isn't:

If you have no record you can get a visa waiver (and yes you can lie, which is a big hole in the system)
If you have a trivial record the Embassy you apply to for a visa may decide to ignore it and grant you the visa immediately
If you have more than a trivial record they will refer the matter back to Washington, which is why it can take 5 months as Chris said in his first reply.

My own guess is that your crimes would debar you from a visa if they were recent; they are probably but not certainly old enough to be ignored if you apply for a visa. They are also probably old enough and trivial enough for the US authorities to have no knowledge of them if you turn up and ask for a visa waiver.

There is a lobby in the US for the visa waiver scheme to be abolished and make everyone apply for a visa. At the moment it's outweighed by a stronger tourist lobby that says it would be a disaster for the US economy to do so.
So far as car hire and possible problems with your partners licence goes - we went to USA this year, and hired a car from Dollar.

My husband did all the paperwork with the car hire company while I tried to keep the kids entertained (after a long flight, the last thing they wanted was to wait in another queue!)

They checked his driving licence but didn't look at mine. I still did my fair share of driving. Obviously we had insurance with all bells and whistles to cover us both.

Not sure if this helps or not!

P.S my husband has a speeding endorsement and points on his licence but it wasn't questioned by Dollar.
Did u get in to the usa and if so did u get visa or just chanced ur like
Question Author
Havn't been yet. Still worried.
hey man i hope u get into the usa..i want to visit my girlfriend out there and worryed am not gonna get in. But what i read so far.sounds like u might get in if u say nothing..how do terroists get in, they lie on the form as well.i have 1 police assault.behind me from about 4 years ago.dont know to risk it and get banned for going there for 5 years..or get a visa..what i have read is they cant ban you from entering the usa for having a crimeinal record..but in my case it is classed as crimes of moral turpitude over there and i think they might not let me in.Damn we all make mistakes..gl man

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