The effect of criminal convictions on visa applications

Criminal convictions often have an effect on visa applications and generally – not surprisingly perhaps – a negative one. It is very often the case that a criminal conviction will occasion an automatic refusal of a visa application, however strong the application is otherwise. We could write a purely dry and technical article about this but, being Red Square London, we want to tell you a little (and informative) story.

Recently, an American person called Jeremy Meeks landed at Heathrow Airport, hoping to enter the UK. He is a fashion model and quite famous in certain circles. He has a quite remarkable history. He got in trouble with the police in California back in 2014 and they posted his mugshot online. But, as of course everybody knows, the internet follows its own paths and sometimes produces unexpected effects. Some modelling agencies saw the mugshot and they thought Wow! he looks cool. So once he had sorted out his issues with the police (including serving a prison sentence) he was able to enter a career as a fashion model. This could surely be a Parable of the Modern Age.

Anyway, now he is going straight, with wife and kids. The reason that he wanted to come to the UK was to do magazine shoots, as fashion models do. The media was not entirely clear about this, but we surmise that he attempted to enter the UK on the basis of his US citizenship, and he did not have a visitor visa; US citizens are entitled to enter the UK for a visit without a visa. Or, more precisely, they are entitled to apply to enter the UK on that basis, ie turn up at the airport and say “let me in please”.

Usually this works but on this occasion it didn’t. The immigration officers discovered that he had recent criminal convictions, and they stopped him and interrogated him. (As others have discovered, immigration officers are no respecters of Famous People.)

Immigration rules for visitors say that those with recent criminal convictions must be refused leave to enter the UK. The rules about this are – like everything else in the immigration rules – quite complicated but, to put it simply, the more severe the sentence and the more recent the conviction then the less chance of the applicant meeting the requirements. Jeremy Meeks fell foul of this, and he was removed back to the US, which made him upset.

And it is not only visitors who come up against rules of this kind. Visa applicants generally, either from within or outside the UK, have to declare criminal convictions and, if the threshold is reached (again, depending on the severity of the sentence and how recent the conviction), then the application will be automatically refused. In some cases this really can be a problem.

Another, sometimes complex, issue is: what constitutes a “criminal conviction”? This is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, a penalty may, or may not, constitute a criminal conviction – depending on what it is and who it was administered by. And some affected people, for example, have been shocked to learn that UK Visas & Immigration consider a Police Caution to be equivalent to a conviction, even if it is not a conviction.

So if you do have, or think you might have, a criminal conviction and you are worried about how this might affect a visa application you should consult a good lawyer.

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