Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act lays out the grounds on which a foreign national may be found inadmissible to the U.S. This means that they will not be granted any legal status in the U.S., such as a visa or a green card, unless they can show that they qualify for a waiver. The main grounds of inadmissibility cover people who have committed certain types of crimes or who have multiple convictions, people who have violated immigration laws, people who may need public benefits, and people who are suffering from communicable diseases, who lack the proper vaccinations, or who have physical or mental disorders that pose a risk of harm. Some other groups who are usually inadmissible include prostitutes, drug traffickers and addicts, terrorists, spies, and Nazis.
A foreign national who is seeking to come to the U.S. for any length of time will need to show that they are admissible. This is true even if they already have a green card. Less intuitively, a foreign national who is currently living in the U.S. will need to show that they are admissible if they are trying to transition to a different legal status. For example, you may face an inadmissibility issue if you are seeking a green card. Although you are already in the U.S., you will be viewed as being “outside” the country for the purposes of this application.
Findings of Inadmissibility
Several different government agencies, such as the State Department, USCIS, and CBP, have the authority to find that a foreign national is inadmissible. If a CBP officer at the border decides that you are inadmissible, for example, they can tell you to return to your home country. If you are already living in the U.S. when a federal agency determines that you are inadmissible, you may be placed in removal proceedings.
Green card holders may expect that they no longer need to worry about inadmissibility if they leave the U.S. and return, but this is not true. You might be prevented from reentering the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident if your circumstances have changed since you received the green card. A foreign national might have committed a serious crime, contracted a communicable disease, or started receiving public assistance. Any of these situations would provide a basis for finding that they are no longer admissible. As a result, you should make sure that grounds of inadmissibility do not apply to your situation before leaving the country or changing your status. If you plan to stay in the U.S. and are eligible for citizenship, you may want to become a U.S. citizen to avoid this issue.
Challenging a Finding of Inadmissibility
A foreign national may be able to defeat a finding of inadmissibility if they can point out an error that resulted in the finding. Perhaps their disease was not properly diagnosed, or perhaps a CBP officer made a mistake in reviewing their records. If no error occurred, you still may be able to get a waiver of inadmissibility, which means that you can enter the country even though you are technically inadmissible. The elements of eligibility for a waiver depend on the reason why you were found inadmissible. However, a foreign national often will need to show that a member of their immediate family who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder would suffer an extreme hardship if they were denied admission to the U.S. This is a hard showing to make without substantial documentation, and you may need to consult a lawyer to help you build your case.
Certain types of foreign nationals are not eligible for a waiver. These include drug traffickers, drug addicts, spies, terrorists, and Nazis.