Moving to Canada with a US criminal record? Explore your options

criminal records for US citizens

James, a US citizen with a criminal record, is eager to move to Canada but concerned about potential immigration hurdles. His criminal history in the United States is a source of worry, as it could create legal barriers to his travel, work, study, or immigration plans. If someone with a similar background is considering moving to Canada and wants to know their options, a comprehensive guide can provide the solutions and support needed to navigate the Canadian immigration process. Find out how to overcome these challenges and make the Canadian dream a reality today!

Criminal history in the United States or anywhere outside Canada

As an American citizen, a criminal record in the US or elsewhere could make you inadmissible to Canada under one of the following grounds:

  • Serious criminality: When the criminal offence is also an offence in Canada with a maximum penalty of at least ten years, you become inadmissible because of serious criminality.
  • Criminality: If the offence is also indictable in Canada but has a maximum penalty of less than ten years, you become inadmissible because of criminality. Moreover, two summary offences could also lead to criminal inadmissibility. Remember that equivalency in Canada is essential.

Please note that the actual term of imprisonment or the amount of fines in the US or elsewhere is irrelevant. For example, you may only pay a fine for a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) conviction. Regardless, this offence is serious criminality because the equivalent maximum penalty in Canada is ten years. Sometimes for outside Canada offences, a mere charge could make a person inadmissible. Consequently, you may not have a conviction and yet become inadmissible to Canada.

A US citizen with a criminal record in Canada

Having a criminal history in Canada could fall under one of the following categories:

  • Serious criminality: One of the following scenarios could make a US citizen inadmissible to Canada because of serious criminality:
    • A conviction that leads to imprisonment of more than six months in Canada
    • A conviction that imprisons the person less than six months, but the maximum penalty is at least ten years.
  • Criminality: Again, one of the following two scenarios:
    • A conviction in Canada for an indictable offence with a maximum penalty of less than ten years and a term of less than six months
    • Two separate summary convictions in Canada

Unlike outside Canada offences, inside Canada, we need a conviction. Inside Canada, convictions could lead to deportation from Canada.

Other types of criminal offences

The main focus of this article is criminal records for US citizens. However, the following issues could also lead to inadmissibility to Canada. Nonetheless, I do not explain the solutions for these here.

  • Organized crimes: Being a gang member or engaging in activities that are part of a pattern of criminal activities (e.g., human smuggling).
  • Human rights violations:
    • Committing an act outside Canada that would be classified as a war crime or crime against humanity
    • Serving as a senior official in a government involved in terrorism, human rights violations, genocide, or war crimes
  • Being a security threat: Activities such as terrorism and espionage (not for a friendly organization such as CIA, MI6, or Mossad).

An extremely difficult solution for these kinds of offences could be the Ministerial Relief.

The consequences of criminal records for US citizens

As a US citizen, you could face different immigration-related implications in Canada, depending on where you are.

  • You are inside Canada: The CBSA could deport you from Canada. If you face deportation, you also face a lifetime ban from moving back to Canada. However, I’ll explain the potential solution in the next section.
  • At the port of entry: You could face a removal order or a Direction to Return to the United States.
  • You are outside Canada: The IRCC may refuse your application to immigrate, work, or study in Canada.

Please note that criminality only affects those US citizens who are not permanent residents (PR) in Canada. However, serious criminality affects you, even if you are a PR.

Immigration solutions for those who have criminal records

Here is a brief list of potential solutions for resolving inadmissibility due to criminal records.

  • In-Canada convictions: The only viable option is either acquittal or record suspension
  • Criminal charges outside Canada: If you face a criminal charge in the United States or anywhere outside Canada, try to resolve it before moving to Canada. Alternatively, you may present enough documentation to convince the immigration officers you didn’t commit the offence. Unfortunately, the standard of proof is reasonable grounds to believe, not beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Summary offences outside Canada: If your records only hold summary offences, you are deemed rehabilitated after five years. The five years begin after finishing all the sentences and paying all the fines. Moreover, the equivalency in Canada must be a summary offence.
  • Criminal inadmissibility because of only one indictable offence: You are deemed rehabilitated after ten years. Of course, the ten years begin when you finish the sentence and pay the fines.
  • Serious criminality or multiple indictable offences: You may apply for rehabilitation after five years.
  • Less than five years have passed: You may apply for a TRP.
  • You have received a deportation order: Regardless of the previous solutions, you must also apply for Authorization to Return to Canada (ARC).

Let us help!

If you are a US citizen with a criminal record who wishes to move to Canada, please consider the complexities of the matter. Book a consultation with me so that we can explore your options together. I am not a criminal lawyer, but as a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC-IRB), I may offer immigration advice. Moreover, I have extensive experience dealing with criminal inadmissibility and other immigration issues. Consequently, please fill out the following form or book a consultation session.

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    Al ParsaiAl Parsai, LLM, MA, RCIC-IRB
    Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
    Adjunct Professor – Queen’s University – Faculty of Law
    Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
    Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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    Al Parsai

    This article has been expertly crafted by Al Parsai, a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University. A respected member of CICC and CAPIC organizations, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.