Criminal background checks for immigration

Whether you are a U.S. citizen filing a petition for your fiancé, spouse or child, an alien applying for a green card by adjustment of status (I-485) or U.S. citizenship (N-400), it is very important to reply accurately to questions about criminal history. If you have a criminal history (e.g. DUI arrests), the best way to do this is to first get and check certified copies of your criminal background reports about you including arrest, court proceedings, sentencing and confinement in a correctional institution, if any.

Criminal background checks on any person may include reports from

  1. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) national criminal background checks,
  2. State and local law enforcement, and
  3. Foreign countries – in the case of an alien.

You can do criminal background checks in the United States at the national and state and local (county) levels. If the applicant has lived in the United States he/she should ask for a national criminal background check from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and from the state(s) where he/she has lived.

The links for the FBI and State law enforcement are –

1. FBI Criminal background check 

2. State Identification Bureau Listing (State Law Enforcement)

From the list for State Identification Bureau Listing, simply google the name of the state agency followed by the words “criminal background check” e.g. if the applicant lived in Florida google “Florida Department of Law Enforcement criminal background check.” The state agency may also have a list of private fingerprinting service providers whose equipment and ways comply with state and FBI standards. The applicant may also contact the local police agency or local sheriff office where he/she lives and explain that he/she wants fingerprints taken for a criminal background check. Undocumented persons  should seek legal advice and use a private fingerprinting agency and not a local police agency to do fingerprinting for criminal background checks.

If the applicant had an arrest or conviction in the United States he/she should contact the local law enforcement agency in the county where the arrest took place or the court that heard the matter and ask about obtaining an official police or court records (showing disposition of the case). Specifically ask for certified copies of:

1. arrest record;

2. criminal complaint;

3. indictment;

4. sentencing records; and

5. any record of confinement if you served time in any correctional institution.

You should still ask for your records even if you ‘did not do it’, it was only a minor offense, the charges were dismissed, you received a pardon, an amnesty or you were found not guilty.

If an applicant lived abroad he/she might want to get a police certificate from that country. Police certificates are not available for some countries. To find out if police certificates are available for a country, check here.

If you have specific questions about immigration background checks or how you should reply to a given question about criminal history consult an immigration attorney or a criminal defense attorney who can work with an immigration attorney to help your case.


Share This Post

Published by

Gary Goodin

Northern Virginia immigration lawyer Gary Goodin provides effective personal legal advice and representation in immigration and citizenship cases from his law office in Tysons Corner, VA. His practice area includes marriage green cards, k1 visas, employment based visas and complex naturalization, and citizenship cases. To learn more about Gary Goodin visit the home page of this green card and US immigration law blog. More information is also available at

Leave a Reply