Hello there travelers,
I have a question regarding US Immigration and the Visa Waiver Program. I live in New Zealand, which is one of the countries that participate in the program. I committed what I consider to be a minor offense when I was 14 or 15. The crime was (if my understanding of the US law is correct) against moral turpitude. It was a burglary, but it's not as bad as it sounds. My friends and I were skipping school and we were thristy, so we went to another friends house (who was at school) and entered his home and took some juice. We didn't break in, we knew where the key was. He found out about this and told his mother whom contacted the police. I was never arrested or convicted of any crime, and never served any reparations (such as monetary or community service). A police officer basically showed up at my home and had a meeting with my mother and I. The officer said that it would be on my criminal record but when I reach the age of 18, under the Clean Slate act, it'll be 'expunged'. It's not really expunged, it's just suppressed. Employers, for example, who perform a background check wont see this because the act suppresses it. However, since NZ law doesn't apply over there, my full record would be released.
Would this prevent me from using the VWP, regardless of the fact that it was when I was under 18 (and there is an exclusion clause in the crimes against moral turpitude document for those who committed one crime and were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime), and the fact that it's very minor in nature? If it does prevent me from using VWP, if I applied for a visa through the USA embassy in my country, would this crime cause me to be denied emission to the USA?
Thank you very much for your time,
- Worried first time traveler; meeting LDR partner.
Very specific question and I wish I could offer you some certainties. Unfortunately, you're never sure what sort of information customs or homeland security has access to. First step is to make sure the record has been expunged and get a document stating that from your country. Second, if this really important, you might want to consult an immigration attorney. You don't want to apply for VWP, be denied, and ruin your chances of even getting a non-immigrant visa, and vice-versa.
Because New Zealand is part of VWP, you still need to be approved by the ESTA which is essentially the Department of Homeland security, and even then, the final decision comes down to the customs officers. And if they happen to ask the tough question "have you ever been convicted...." you'll be faced with another decision of lying, or telling the truth. Both of which can lead to a crappy outcome.
Get some consultation, and professional advice. Any answers on these boards will only be conjecture, and i would hate for you to take unnecessary and costly risk. Try some of these sites for more info too:
While robbery is a "crime of moral turpitude", burglary by teenagers is not what they are looking for when they use the term "moral turpitude" in the immigration law. Plus, generally all crimes of non-adults are generally sealed once they reach adulthood in the US.
I'm not a lawyer, so here's what real lawyers say about this law:
I'd say that you should leave it off your VWP application, and don't even think about mentioning it, as it's essentially unimportant and not worth mentioning. As you say, you were never arrested and never went to court, so there is no record. From the US point of view, you therefore committed no crime.
Enjoy your trip to the US.
"... I was never arrested or convicted of any crime, and never served any reparations..."
Wipe it from your memory bank. Forget it ever happened. It's a complete non issue.