U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducts a background check on every immigration application. If you're applying for a green card and you have had any interactions with U.S. law enforcement, you'll have to disclose your criminal record to USCIS with your application. Generally, it's a good idea to consult with an immigration attorney if you have a criminal record before submitting your green card application. This article explains how to determine if you have a criminal record, where to get a copy of your criminal record, and the step-by-step process to request a copy from U.S. federal and state authorities.
Do I have a criminal record?
If you have had certain encounters with law enforcement agencies, you likely have a criminal record and need to gather criminal records for your green card application. The following situations are examples of law enforcement encounters:
- Arrest for a DUI
- Receiving a citation for public disorderliness
- Local law enforcement agencies stopping you at a border when you are entering the United States
- Agreeing to a plea bargain with a prosecutor
- Violating probation or parole
- Dismissal or expungement of a conviction
What criminal records should I submit?
If you are applying for a green card from outside the United States, you need to submit court and prison records for each conviction to the National Visa Center (NVC). This requirement includes all convictions, even if the criminal justice system later pardoned you or granted you any amnesty. You do not need to provide records on an arrest that did not lead to a conviction.
The records must show this information:
- The complete circumstances of the criminal offense
- The outcome of the criminal offense, including the sentence and any other penalties
If you are applying for a green card from inside the United States, you will need to submit police and court records and any additional information required for each arrest or conviction to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This records request would apply to any arrest or charge, even if you were a minor and even if the court later expunged it from your record.
You generally do not need to provide information about minor traffic violations under specific criteria. For example, you would not need to provide information if the traffic violation did not lead to criminal charges or involve drugs, alcohol, property damage, or personal injury.
Finally, if your criminal records are not in English, you will need to provide a certified English translation with them.
Where can I get a copy of my U.S. criminal record?
There is a difference between federal and state criminal records. For example, your state Department of Justice may maintain your state’s criminal records. This state record only includes information about crimes committed in that state. On the other hand, federal criminal records will contain data from across the country.
You will have to request and provide your fingerprint to the appropriate government agency to get your criminal record.
This chart indicates where you can request your record from:
Depending on your arrest or conviction situation, you will have to provide different documents for your green card application. Here is some additional information about what documents to provide for these different scenarios:
How do I get a copy of my criminal record from the FBI?
To get a copy of your criminal record from the FBI, you will need to first complete an identity history summary request form. Afterward, you will get your fingerprints taken, pay the fee, check you have completed all the required documents, then submit your packet. You can complete this process online or on paper.
Step 1: Complete the FBI Identity History Summary Request Form.
First, you will have to complete the FBI identity history summary request form. You can either fill this out online or on paper. You will have to include your name, date of birth, and complete mailing address.
Under the “purpose” or “reason for request,” write “personal review” or “review own record.”
Finally, sign and date the form. It’s important to note you do not have to provide a Social Security number or information about whether you are a U.S. citizen.
Step 2: Get your fingerprints taken on the FBI fingerprint card.
You will need to use the FBI’s fingerprint card form. You can have your fingerprints taken at any location that does fingerprint services. Before you go, you should call ahead. Make sure the place provides ink card fingerprinting for FBI record checks. You may also want to ask if there is a fee and whether they require any form of identification or documentation, such as a driver's license.
If you are applying online, you can get fingerprinting done at a participating U.S. post office. You need to complete the entire application and payment before visiting the post office. Otherwise, you can mail your card after applying. You will need to include your name and date of birth on the card.
One disclaimer - if you are undocumented or have outstanding warrants against you, going to a law enforcement agency for fingerprinting is risky. You could be arrested and referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If possible, try to submit your fingerprints through a private agency or business.
Step 3: Pay the eighteen-dollar fee.
You can pay either with a money order or cashier’s check to the “Treasury of the United States” or by credit card through the credit card payment form.
The FBI will not accept cash, personal checks, or business checks for payment. You also need to pay the exact amount. If you can't afford the fee, you can request a waiver by providing a claim and proof of indigence or poverty. For example, you could include a notarized affidavit of indigence. This affidavit should explain your situation and why you cannot afford the fee.
Step 4: Check that you have completed all required documents.
Review the FBI’s identity history summary request checklist. Make sure you:
- Signed and completed the applicant information form
- Completed the fingerprint card
- Made the payment of eighteen dollars
Step 5: Submit your request.
You can mail your packet to the FBI at this address:
FBI CJIS Division – Summary Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
Or, you can submit your request online.
Step 6: Wait for your record.
If the FBI cannot find a record, they will send a response clarifying there is no record. If they do find a record, they will send it. It takes the FBI around two to four weeks after you request if you submit by mail. If you submit online, it will take three to five business days.
The FBI will send the results to the requestor.
How do I get a copy of my criminal record from my state?
The process to get criminal history record information from the state depends on which state you were located in while you encountered law enforcement. You should research the policy for the specific state you have in mind. Here is some information about Texas, California, and Florida's policies:
In California, you will contact the California Department of Justice. If you are an in-state resident, you can have the option of digital fingerprinting.
In Florida, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Division of Criminal Justice Information Services maintains the criminal history information. There are different search options.
In Texas, the Texas Department of Public Safety handles criminal history record checks. You can make an appointment at one of their locations or conduct an online search.
Obtaining police reports and court records for a green card application can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!