If you have a criminal record or have been fingerprinted for a crime but never convicted, and are planning a cross border shopping trip to the United States, you may want to think twice before trying to cross the border.
The chances are very high that you will be refused entry into the U.S. and possibly be detained for a period of time, which can be a humiliating and traumatizing experience. Even worse, you will be flagged in the U.S. system, making future travel to the United States difficult, if not impossible. If you are caught trying to enter the United States after you have already been denied entry, or are caught inside the United States illegally, you may face a number of consequences, including deportation, detention and seizure of property.
Fortunately, Canadians who have criminal records or have been fingerprinted for a crime but never convicted have two options that will allow them to visit the United States legally: Pardons and U.S. Entry Waivers:
If you have a criminal record or have been fingerprinted for a crime but never convicted, and you have never been denied entry into the U.S., you can apply for a pardon from the Canadian government, specifically, the Parole Board of Canada, who have exclusive jurisdiction to grant, refuse or revoke a pardon.
If you are granted a pardon, your criminal record will not be accessible by U.S. border officials if they search the Canadian Police Information Center when you are entering the United States.
Obtaining a pardon can take between 12 – 24 months from the time you are eligible to apply. In order to be eligible to apply for a pardon, you must have waited the requisite time period after your sentence was completed, have all of the proper supporting documents and have been of good conduct.
For most Canadians seeking entry to the United States, pardons are preferred over U.S. entry waivers, as they are permanent so long as your pardon is not revoked, and you are not required to disclose your criminal record to the U.S. government when crossing the border. U.S. entry waivers, on the other hand, require you to divulge the details of your criminal record to the U.S. government and must be reapplied for on a regular basis.
U.S. Entry Waivers
If you have already been denied entry into the U.S. because of your criminal record, you are already flagged in their system and have an INS and FBI file. In this case, you will require a U.S. Entry Waiver from the American government to travel to the U.S.
Unlike a pardon, which is applied for from the Canadian government, a U.S. entry waiver must be applied for from the U.S. government. Applying for a U.S. entry waiver requires you to disclose the details of your criminal record, and once granted, must be reapplied for on a regular basis.
You can apply for a U.S. entry waiver once you have obtained all of your supporting documents. It generally takes 5 to 12 months to process your application from the time it is submitted.