Steve’s 25 year old criminal record had never really caused him any problems. However, finding out that his new job required him to travel to the USA on business made him question whether he’d be able to continue working for the company or whether he would have to resign.
25 years ago my life was very different to how it is now. To say I was a bad lad is a bit of an understatement; I’d received around 10 convictions before the age of 17 and been to a YOI twice.
It sounds horrendous when you see it written down but in all honesty, the offences were for quite petty things. I’m sure if they’d happened today, I’d have been dealt with differently, but who knows!
Despite having a ‘significant’ criminal record, finding work had never really been a problem and, even if I say so myself, I’ve been pretty successful over the years. As my convictions are now all spent, I very rarely think about them on a day to day basis.
So, applying for and getting a new job was no big deal until my boss told me that he was so pleased with my work that he wanted me to attend a couple of events with him in the USA. What a fantastic opportunity?
Like a lot of people with convictions, I’ve always believed that I’d never be able to travel to the US. I think it was the first thing I was told when I arrived at the YOI. I’d never let it bother me – after all there’s plenty more places in the world to go to on holiday. However work was different, I either needed to travel or tell my boss why I couldn’t.
I started to do a bit of research online but rather than provide me with answers it just made me more confused. I’d pretty much established that I’d have to apply for a visa rather than travel under the Visa Waiver Scheme, which meant I’d have to disclose my convictions but what I really wanted to know was whether I’d actually get one if I applied. If I didn’t stand any chance then I would have resigned rather than explain why to my boss.
I tried ringing the US Embassy but couldn’t get through but then I came across the phone number of an organisation called Unlock. I rang their helpline and explained the situation and couldn’t believe it when the guy told me that he didn’t think I’d have any problems being granted a visa as my convictions were deemed to be ‘juvenile delinquency’ (they’d happened when I was under 18). Funny to think that when my dad called me a juvenile delinquent as a kid it was a real insult yet they were the best words ever spoken by the guy at Unlock.
I completed the visa paperwork, got my police certificate and made an appointment at the Embassy. I was quite worried about the interview but it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be although the waiting around was quite boring. The Immigration Officer asked me loads of questions about my convictions and my reason for wanting to visit the US and there were a couple of times when I’d convinced myself that she wouldn’t grant me the visa.
I’m glad to say that I did get my visa and have already visited the US once with my boss. I had a bit of a tricky moment when, having seen the visa stamped in my passport, I was asked to go into a small office with a US Immigration Officer. She asked me a couple of questions about my visit and then let me go. Obviously my boss wanted to know why I’d been called into the office and all I could think to say was:
I think they randomly select people to find out more about them and their visit. I must just have one of those guilty looking faces
If only he knew!!
By Steve (name changed to protect identity)
A comment from Unlock
As Steve states in his story, there’s a lot of conflicting information online about whether it’s possible to travel to the US with a criminal record with many people assuming that anybody with convictions can never visit.
The US doesn’t ‘bar’ people with convictions from visiting but generally, you will be required to apply for a visa through the US Embassy. Consular Officers at the Embassy deal with every application on a case-by-case basis and will consider the seriousness of the offence, the age you were at the time and how long ago you received your conviction.
We also get a lot of reports from people that are granted a visa that, when they pass through immigration at the other end, they get taken into a separate office and have to wait for some further questions. This is worth knowing about to think about how you’ll prepare for that.