“I have a friend who lives in Ireland who had trouble with the law when he was younger. He served some time in prison after a fight in which the other person received a minor injury. He has been out of jail for three years and has lived an exemplary life since. But he is finding it difficult to find a job in Ireland, and would really like to come to the U.S. and start anew. Will this be possible, given his background? I know the U.S. government is very strict when it comes to convicted criminals. Would it be easier for him to come here if he married a U.S. citizen?”

You are correct in pointing out the strictness of the U.S. when it comes to admitting those with certain types of criminal records. It is hard to say if your friend’s assault conviction – presumably, that’s what it was – will bar him from entering the U.S. because of the lack of information in your question.

However, criminal convictions and U.S. visas really don’t go together, so it’s quite possible that he will have a difficult if not impossible time when it comes to securing a U.S. visa.

There are many different reasons why the U.S. government can classify an alien as being inadmissible to the country. These include medical grounds (those with communicable diseases, but not HIV-AIDS), security grounds (members of organizations deemed to be terrorist), and criminal grounds.

Some of the criminal offenses that would permanently bar a foreign national from entering the country are obvious –murder, rape, drug trafficking. And some fall into a grey area, such as drunk driving, and minor drug and assault convictions.

According to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, any alien convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude is considered inadmissible to the U.S.

What is a crime of moral turpitude? It’s a very broad term, and U.S. immigration doesn’t offer a precise definition.

However, there are many, many different crimes that fall under the moral turpitude banner – arson, robbery, bribery, murder, counterfeiting, mail fraud – the list goes on and on. (For a State Department document on moral turpitude, visit http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/86942.pdf).

There are exceptions to being considered inadmissible to the U.S. if a single crime of moral turpitude is involved. If the crime was committed when the alien was under 18, and the crime was committed (and the alien released from prison or other confinement) more than five years before the date of application for a visa or other documentation and the date of application for admission to the United States, he could be considered admissible.

In a second exception, if the maximum penalty possible for the crime of which the alien was convicted did not exceed imprisonment for one year and, if the alien was convicted of such crime, the alien was not sentenced to a term of imprisonment in excess of six months, he could also be considered admissible.

If any of those two exceptions apply to your friend, then perhaps he’d be able to come to the U.S. He would have to be completely truthful in his visa application at the American Embassy.

As far as starting anew here, that’s a whole other conversation. He would need an employment/student/trainee visa, all of which require serious planning.

You also mention marriage to a U.S. citizen which of course confers benefits. Again, his criminal background may or may not be an issue if this were to happen.

Criminal records, even those considered to be “minor,” can be extremely problematic when it comes to U.S. immigration, and expert advice particular to an alien’s situation should always be obtained