What You Should Know About Getting Arrested on a Student Visa

Studying abroad can open new doors for an international student, expanding cultural horizons and providing educational opportunities not available at home. Foreign students studying in the United States on an F-1 or M-1 student visa have certain responsibilities in order to maintain compliance with the conditions under which the visa was granted. If you or a loved one have been arrested while in possession of a student visa, contact a DC student visa lawyer with our firm today to learn how we can help.

About Student Visas

Student visa holders must be enrolled in a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-approved school. In most cases, the student may not hold off-campus employment.  Doing so may place you in violation of your student status.  However, dropping out of school and working without authorization are not the only two ways you may be in visa violation. If you are arrested for a crime—even a seemingly minor offense—it could have a significant impact on your ability to remain in the United States as a student, and could affect long-term eligibility for lawful immigration status. If you are arrested while in student status, you should immediately find a qualified immigration lawyer to appraise you of the potential consequences.

So what does an arrest mean for you as an international student? Here are three things you should know:

A U.S. Arrest Has Serious Consequences

Certainly, a student may be arrested for a violent felony, but most commonly, students are arrested for minor misdemeanors such as drunk driving (DUI), shoplifting or petty theft, or drug possession. For students who are citizens of the United States, these arrests can be inconvenient, and if convicted, the person may face fines and jail time. He or she may even be kicked out of school. For the international student, however, the consequences of an arrest or conviction may be much more severe. If you are expelled from school or your program, you will be in violation of your student visa. You may be required to remain in the United States pending the outcome of your case, meaning you will be unable to visit your friends and family back home until your case is resolved. Even if your case is ultimately dismissed, you must acknowledge your arrest record if you wish to re-enter or remain in the United States when you apply for renewal of your visa or a green card. If you are convicted of certain crimes, including most drug crimes and other “crimes involving moral turpitude,” you may be found to be inadmissible to re-enter or remain in the United States.  You may be placed into removal proceedings before an immigration court, and face deportation. In some instances, particularly when many drug offenses are involved, you may actually also be subject to mandatory detention in an immigration holding facility while your trial before the immigration court is pending.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Under U.S. law, people have the right to be free from self-incrimination. Those who are questioned or arrested by police have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer the questions police ask you, such as where you have been or how much you have had to drink. It is important to be polite and to provide identification to police, but you do not have to make any statements. Your words may be manipulated and used against you. Even native English-speakers are often confused by the legal jargon and semantics used by law enforcement officers. If English is your second language, you may find the officer’s questions confusing, and you may struggle to make yourself clear to investigators. If you are questioned by police or placed under arrest, you need to make no other statement than to request an attorney.

You Need a Lawyer

An arrest can cause problems with your visa, but a conviction will cause even more difficulty. You need a legal advocate who can navigate the judicial system for you, explaining the nature of your case, guiding you through the process, and offering wise legal counsel. Finding a lawyer who is experienced in both criminal defense and immigration matters can help you avoid conviction and/or removal from the United States.

If you are studying in the U.S. on a student visa, a criminal arrest can complicate matters for you. Your arrest will be entered into NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database and could cause delays in re-entering the country if you leave, causing you to miss school. Your visa application or renewal could be denied, thus ending your educational opportunities in the United States. You may be deported or “removed” from the United States and barred from readmission.

Getting Help from an Immigration Attorney

If you are arrested, a criminal defense and immigration lawyer can help. However, the best way to avoid the consequences of being arrested on a student visa is to follow all federal, state, and local laws. Even if your case is dismissed or you have only minor legal penalties such as a fine or community service, your arrest record can impact your immigration status.

Don’t break the law—that’s perhaps the most important pieces of advice for foreign students. If, however, you make a mistake, protect your right to silence and make sure you understand all the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction before you move forward with your case. If you fear you may have violated your student status, call an immigration lawyer with our firm for a consultation.

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