The United States has strict rules about who is allowed to enter the country. You may meet all other qualifications of a visa, but be denied admission based upon one of the grounds of inadmissibility. You should be well aware of these grounds and know how to overcome them if necessary. A qualified immigration attorney can advise you about whether you qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility. No waiver is available for some grounds, such as national security risks and drug addiction. The most common reasons for inadmissibility are criminal convictions, fraud, health and prior unlawful presence or removal.


The Immigration Nationality Act (INA) denies admission to foreign nationals who have been convicted of a crime or admit to an essential element of a crime involving moral turpitude or a controlled substance offense. The INA does not specifically define crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT), but the term generally refers to base, vile or depraved acts contrary to accepted rules of morality. This broad understanding of CIMT would include such serious crimes as murder, rape, theft and fraud.

Violation of a drug crime, whether in the United States or a foreign country, is grounds for inadmissibility. You may be denied entry even if you were not actually convicted of drug trafficking, but if an immigration officer knows or has reason to know you were involved, including aiding, abetting, conspiring, or colluding with others to traffic illicit substances.

The government also may deny admission due to conviction of two or more crimes that are sentenced to at least five years, even if not crimes of moral turpitude. Other crimes that may be grounds for inadmissibility include prostitution, commercialized vice, human trafficking and money laundering.


Fraud encompasses acts of dishonesty to obtain immigration documents or entry into the United States. Purposely misrepresenting material facts or lying on a visa application would be grounds for inadmissibility.

Prior Unlawful Presence or Removal

If you lawfully entered the United States, but overstayed your visa for more than 180 days, you are barred from reentering for three years. If you overstayed for more than a year, you are barred for 10 years. However, you may qualify for a waiver under certain circumstances. For example, a waiver is often part of an application to adjust status as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. You cannot leave the country during pendency of the application or you risk not being allowed to reenter.

You are also subject to a bar if you were previously removed, excluded or deported from the United States or left on your own volition during pendency of a removal decision. Furthermore, you would be barred from reentry if you illegally entered the country, once or several times, and accrued a total of one year of illegal presence.

Grounds of inadmissibility and applications for waivers are very complicated. You may unknowingly put yourself at risk or lose your chance to file a waiver if you file documents without understanding these important matters. The advice of an immigration attorney is crucial.

*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

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