Many people go to great lengths to apply for permanent residence or citizenship in the U.S., and for good reason. Job opportunities, education, and financial stability may be more available in the U.S. than in other countries. While the vast majority of applicants represent honest pursuits, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) aims to prevent certain types of foreign nationals from gaining entrance to the U.S. The “grounds for inadmissibility,” are characteristics of an applicant that can warrant refusal of an application for entrance. While the most stringency is placed on green card and citizenship applications, visitors’ visas can also be denied based on similar principles.

Grounds for Inadmissibility Fall into Several Categories.

Grounds for inadmissibility can be based on several types of risks to U.S. society. For specific information about each category, see later sections of this article. The list below offers a general understanding of what types of characteristics are commonly considered.

  1. Medical Issues
  2. Criminal Violations
  3. Threats to National Security
  4. Economic Instability
  5. Employment and Labor Issues
  6. Violations of Visa and Immigration Regulations
Lying to a U.S. Immigration Form is Almost Always more Risky than Telling the Truth.

Green card and citizenship applications are designed to screen applicants for grounds for inadmissibility. This means that applicants are asked about criminal history, loyalty to enemy states or organizations, financial stability, and medical history, among other pieces of personal information. While it is possible to lie in the visa application process, it is highly discouraged. USCIS is permitted to do significant research in order to verify that information is true. Applicants that are found lying will almost certainly be denied entrance, and likely will be denied on future applications as well – even if the truth is told on these applications. For those who fear that they may have grounds for inadmissibility, it is much more advisable to tell the truth on the immigration application and apply for a waiver with the help of a lawyer.


Applying for a Waiver of Grounds for Inadmissibility.

If your application contains facts that make you inadmissible, like certain criminal histories or medical conditions, you may be eligible to apply for a waiver. If a waiver is granted, this means that USCIS has determined that the grounds for inadmissibility should not prevent the applicant from obtaining the requested visa. Applying for a waiver is often complicated, and legal advice should be sought. Of note, some grounds for inadmissibility are not eligible for a waiver, such as drug trafficking, involvement in a terrorist group, and former US citizens who shed citizenship for taxation reasons.

Applications can be Inadmissible Based on Medical Issues.

While uncommon in U.S.-born citizens, tuberculosis remains a major health threat in many developing countries. Untreated tuberculosis, along with select other communicable diseases, can be grounds for inadmissibility. Several waivers are available for this case, and treatment of the disease frequently solves the issue entirely. Other grounds for rejection based on medical issues include mental and physical disabilities that render an applicant dangerous to himself or to others. Lastly, vaccination status must be up-to-date, or a waiver based on medical inappropriateness or religious belief must be requested.


Applications can be Inadmissible Based on a Criminal History.

Perhaps the most common category of crimes for which U.S. visa applications are denied is crimes of “moral turpitude.” While this term is fairly nebulous and its exact meaning and boundaries are often debated, the following is a list of crimes generally considered to involve moral turpitude:

  1. Murder
  2. Manslaughter (exceptions sometimes made for involuntary manslaughter)
  3. Aggravated Assault
  4. Child Abuse
  5. Spousal Abuse
  6. Rape
  7. Incest
  8. Kidnapping
  9. Robbery
  10. Fraud
  11. Animal Fighting

Notably, it does not matter whether the crime was committed on US soil or foreign soil. Attempt to complete a crime of moral turpitude, as well as acting as an accessory to one, are also considered grounds for inadmissibility. In the absence of a crime of moral turpitude, conviction of two or more crimes can be grounds for inadmissibility. Involvement in prosecution and drug trafficking likewise warrants rejection. If any of the above crimes were committed when the applicant was under 18 years old, they may not be grounds for inadmissibility.

Applications can be Inadmissible Based on a Threat to National Security.

This category includes demonstrated ties to terrorist organizations, participation in torture, genocide, or persecution, as well as several other characteristics. Nearly all grounds for inadmissibility that fall under this heading do not qualify for a waiver. The exception to this is membership in a totalitarian party, and a waiver for this can be filed based on several factors.

Applications can be Inadmissible Based on Economic Stability, Employment and Labor Issues.

Applications are often rejected based on the concern that the person may become a “public charge.” This means that the person, once admitted, is likely to require welfare or public assistance. One way to avoid this is to have an affidavit of support from someone who makes a significant amount of money. To do this, the supporting family member must fill out form I-864. For petitioners who are able to meet the income requirement alone and are not sponsoring any other immigrants, the abbreviated form I-864EZ may be used instead. For people applying for an employment-based green card where a family member owns more than 5% of the employment company, form I-864 is also required.

The exact amount of required income is determined by household size and the state of residence of the supporting person. However, in nearly all cases, a minimum income of 125% of the poverty line is required. Refugees, asylum seekers, and certain Cuban and Nicaraguan immigrants, among others, are exempt from the public charge requirement.

Applications can be Inadmissible Based on Violations of Visa and Immigration Laws

The last major category of grounds for inadmissibility includes those with prior or current visa or immigration violations. Perhaps the most important of these is misrepresenting information during the immigration process. This also includes student visa violations, such as applying for an F-1 (student) visa and then transferring to a public education program.

People who have been on US soil unlawfully for more than 180 days may be denied citizenship for three to ten years after leaving the US. This means this there is little consequence if less than 180 illegal days were spent in the US. If 180-365 days were illegally spent in the US, applicants must wait 3 years after leaving the US, before applying for reentry. If more than 1 year was spent illegally in the US, applicants must be out of the US for 10 years before applying for reentry.