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What Happens If an International Student Commits a Crime?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. | Last updated on

International students have it slightly harder than domestic students, and not just on the language front. Those in the U.S. on a student visa must not only stay in school to keep their visas valid, but also stay away from even being suspected of certain crimes. And if found guilty, the punishment could be harsh. 

So, before you try to get a fake ID to go out to college bars like you do in your home country, educate yourself about the unique consequences of your situation.

Know the Stakes for a Plea

If an international student is charged with a crime, he or she may not be able to leave the country under certain circumstances until the case is resolved. In some instances, that could take years. Given that, many international students are tempted to plead guilty to a lesser crime in order to be able to resume travel. But beware! Once a guilty plea is entered, there could be further visa ramifications. Make sure you understand all of these before accepting a plea deal.

There are certain crimes which, if convicted, would lead to your immediate deportation, under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The list is long, but ones that may be more commonly committed involve moral turpitude, aggravated felonies, failure to register as a sex offender, drug crime in any country, domestic violence, crimes against children, or violating a protective order. These crimes are somewhat common, so be mindful of pleading to these in order to expedite the criminal procedural situation. If deported under any of these circumstances, it is possible that you would be barred from re-entry for up to ten years.

Even an Arrest Can Have Dire Consequences

In addition, some schools will expel students that are merely charged with a crime, prior to having their day in court. If this happens, the school is required by law to enter the expulsion in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) within 21 days. Keep in mind that most student visas require full-time enrollment in school, and therefore being expelled could revoke the visa, even if the student is ultimately cleared of the crime.

When to Call an Immigration Attorney

You may be rightfully confused at this point. If your visa is revoked due to being expelled, you must leave the country. If you don't, and the U.S. Immigration Office finds you, your family could be placed in expedited removal proceedings. But you can't leave if you are charged with a crime. Therein lies the rub. At this point, it would be very beneficial to contact an immigration attorney to sort out the details of your specific case.

If you are an international student, and have been accused or even investigated for committing a crime, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. A lawyer will be able to inform you of your immigration and criminal defendant rights, which may be extremely different from your native country. Time is of the essence, so contact an attorney quickly to receive your best defense.

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