Immigration Topics Explained:

Grounds of Inadmissibility for Permanent Residence

Grounds of Inadmissibility Explained

How does inadmissibility affect my green card application?

To gain entry into the United States as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), a foreign national must meet several requirements in the family-based immigration system. In addition to having an eligible relationship with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, the applicant must not be inadmissible under Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Section 212 lists several grounds of inadmissibility that can prevent foreign nationals from gaining permission to enter or remain in the U.S.

There are numerous grounds of inadmissibility. Some of the most commonly applied grounds of inadmissibility and waiver availability are listed below. This article is provided for general information purposes only. Always seek the expert guidance of an immigration attorney to analyze your specific situation and make a determination on admissibility.

Health-Related Grounds

[INA § 212(a)(1)]

Public health safety is an important aspect of immigration. The U.S. government is responsible for ensuring that new immigrants do not introduce communicable diseases, physical or mental disorders with associated harmful behavior, or drug abuse problems. Congress also requires all green card applications to establish that they have been vaccinated against certain vaccine-preventable diseases.

Diseases that will cause inadmissibility under this class include, but are not limited to, the following: chancroid, gonorrhea, granuloma inguinale, leprosy (infectious), lymphogranuloma venereum, syphilis (infectious stage), and tuberculosis (active). Intending immigrants undergo an immigration medical exam to remove these grounds of inadmissibility.

Health-Related GroundsWaiver Availability
Communicable Disease of Public Health Significance (INA 212(a)(1)(A)(i)waiver for grounds of inadmissibility available
Failure to Submit Proof of Vaccination INA 212(a)(1)(A)(ii), INA 212(a)(1)(A)(iii)waiver for grounds of inadmissibility available
Physical or Mental Disorder and Behavior Associated with the Disorder Which May Pose, or Has Posed a Threat, to Property or Safety, of the Applicant or Others and Which is Likely to Recur (INA 212(a)(1)(A)(iii)inadmissibility waiver for physical or mental disorder grounds
Drug Abuser or Addict, one who has engaged in “non-medical use of a controlled substance.” (INA 212(a)(1)(A)(iv)no waiver for drug abuse grounds of inadmissibility

Criminal and Related Grounds

[INA § 212(a)(2)]

A variety of crimes can make an intending immigrant inadmissible to the United States. You become inadmissible to the U.S. if you have been convicted of, admit to having committed, or admit having committed acts that add up to the essential elements of one of the following:

  • Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT)
    A CIMT is generally any offense which involves fraud or deceit, or is inherently "base, vile or depraved." Even courts disagree on the exact meaning and which crimes are included. Examples of CIMTs include, but are not limited to: murder, rape, arson, robbery, theft, and fraud.
  • Drug-Related Offense
    This includes a violation of (or a conspiracy or attempt to violate) any controlled substance (drug) law, whether it’s a U.S. or foreign law.
  • Conviction of Two or More Offenses
    Multiple criminal convictions (two or more, except purely political offenses) for which the total, aggregate prison sentences were five years or more.
  • Drug Trafficking
    If any immigration officer "knows or has reason to believe" that a person has been involved in trafficking in controlled substances (drugs), that person is inadmissible.
  • Prostitution
    This applies to anyone who has engaged (within the past 10 years) or will engage in prostitution, the procurement of prostitutes, or receive the proceeds from prostitution.
  • Human Trafficking
    Any person who commits or conspires to commit human trafficking offenses in the U.S. or outside the U.S., even if immigration officials believe that the person has been a knowing participant. (These grounds do not include offenses that involve sons or daughters.)
  • Money Laundering
    Any person known or suspected to have engaged, is engaging, or seeks to enter the U.S. to engage in money laundering.

This is a list of the major activities associated with inadmissibility on criminal or related grounds. Other crimes or activities are detailed in the INA.

Criminal & Related GroundsWaiver Availability
Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (INA 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I)waiver for cimt inadmissibility available
Controlled Substance Violators (INA 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(II))waiver for controlled substance grounds of inadmissibility available
Multiple Criminal Convictions (INA 212(a)(2)(B))waiver for grounds of inadmissibility
Controlled Substance Traffickers and the Spouse, Son, or Daughter of Substance Traffickers Who Obtained Financial or other Benefit and Knew or have Known that the Financial Benefit was the Product of Illicit Activity within the Past Five Years (INA 212(a)(2)(C))no waiver on controlled substance traffickers
Prostitution and Commercialized Vice Within the Past 10 Years of the Date of Application for a Visa, Admission, or Adjustment of Status (INA 212(a)(2)(D); and INA 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I))waiver for grounds of inadmissibility for prostitution
Certain Aliens Involved in Serious Criminal Activity Who Have Asserted Immunity from Prosecution (INA 212(a)(2)(E))waiver
Foreign Government Officials Who Have Committed Particularly Severe Violations of Religious Freedom (INA 212(a)(2)(G))no waiver
Significant Traffickers in Persons and Beneficiaries, Certain Family Members of Trafficker Who Obtained Financial or Other Benefit and Knew or Have Known that the Financial Benefit was the Product of Illicit Activity in Past 5 Years (INA 212(a)(2)(H))no waiver

Security and Related Grounds

[INA § 212(a)(3)]

Immigration officials may find a foreign national inadmissible on the grounds of national security if the applicant is found to be involved with certain activities or organizations that may be illegal or against the general principles of American democracy. Foreign nationals inadmissible under the national security grounds are divided into five categories:

  • Persons seeking to enter the United States to engage in prejudicial and unlawful activities, including espionage, sabotage, “any unlawful activity,” or the violation or evasion of “any law prohibiting the export from the United States of goods, technology or sensitive information;”
  • Persons “engaging in” “terrorist activities;”
  • Persons whose admission into the United States would bring about serious foreign policy consequences;
  • Members of the Communist or any totalitarian party; and
  • Participants in Nazi persecution or genocide.

The foreign policy grounds of inadmissibility can even include purely ideological reasons. In other words, he foreign national may be inadmissible “because of the alien’s past, current, or expected beliefs, statements, or associations” if the person’s admission would “compromise a compelling U.S. foreign policy interest.”

Security & Related GroundsWaiver Availability
General Prejudicial Activities: Espionage, Sabotage, or Prohibited Export of Sensitive Technology, or Sensitive Information (INA 212(a)(3)(A))no waiver
Terrorist Activities (INA 212(a)(3)(B))no waiver for terrorist grounds
Entry Would Have Potentially Serious Adverse Foreign Policy Consequences (INA 212(a)(3)(C))no waiver
Membership or Affiliation with Communist or Other Totalitarian Party, Domestic or Foreign (INA 212(a)(3)(D))communist inadmissibility grounds has waiver
Participation in Nazi Persecutions or Genocide and Commission of Acts of Torture or Extrajudicial Killings (INA 212(a)(3)(E))no inadmissibility waiver for nazi
Associations with Terrorist Organizations (INA 212(a)(3)(F))no waiver
Recruitment or Use of Child Soldiers (INA 212(a)(3)(G))no waiver

Public Charge

[INA § 212(a)(4)]

A foreign national who is likely to become a “public charge” is inadmissible. The U.S. government defines a public charge as a person who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” To overcome this ground, virtually all family-based (and some employment-based) immigrants must have a valid Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Even if the intending immigrant is already lined up for a well-paying job, the person who petitioned the intending immigrant (I-130 or I-129F filer) must prepare an I-864 affidavit that the intending immigrant submits as a part of the adjustment of status application. For more information, see the Public Charge Rule Explained.

Public ChargeWaiver Availability
Public Charge (INA 212(a)(4)(A))no waiver for public charge

Unlawful Entry and Immigration Violations

[INA § 212(a)(6)]

Generally, any person who enters the United States without permission is inadmissible. These grounds of inadmissibility extend to several other immigration violations. For example, failing to attend removal proceedings, fraud or misrepresentation with immigration officials, false claims to U.S. citizenship and human smuggling can make a person inadmissible.

Unlawful Entry & Immigration ViolationsWaiver Availability
Aliens Present Without Admission or Parole (INA 212(a)(6)(A))N/A
Failure to Attend a Removal Proceeding (INA 212(a)(6)(B))no waiver
Fraud and Misrepresentation (INA 212(a)(6)(C)(i))fraud waiver
False Claim of Citizenship (INA 212(a)(6)(C)(ii))no waiver
Stowaways (INA 212(a)(6)(D))N/A
Smugglers (Knowingly Assisted) (INA 212(a)(6)(E))inadmissibility waiver for smugglers
Subject of Civil Penalty or Final Order Under Section 274C (Document Counterfeiting) (INA 212(a)(6)(F))yes
Student Visa Abusers (INA 212(a)(6)(G))no waiver

Documentation Requirements

[INA § 212(a)(7)]

As should be expected, any foreign national without a valid visa or entry document may be found inadmissible. A person who seeks to enter the United States and remain here permanently, or who is suspected of seeking to enter the U.S. and remain here permanently, but who does not have the proper documents to demonstrate that he or she has authorization to do so, is inadmissible.

Documentation RequirementsWaiver Availability
No Entry Documents – Immigrants (INA 212(a)(7)(A))no waiver
Nonimmigrants Not in Possession of Passport Valid for Six Months, Nonimmigrant Visa, or Border Crossing Card (INA 212(a)(7)(B))no waiver

Aliens Previously Removed

[INA § 212(a)(9)]

Foreign nationals who have been deported are generally inadmissible. These grounds of inadmissibility are divided into three major categories:

  • Arriving Aliens
    The offender is inadmissible for five years after the first deportation. He or she remains inadmissible for 20 years in the case of a second or subsequent deportation.
  • Unlawfully Present
    A foreign national who has been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 180 days but less than one year is inadmissible for a period of three years. Unlawful presence of more than a year results to inadmissibility for ten years. Several exceptions and waivers are available.
  • Unlawfully Present after Previous Immigration Violations
    A foreign national who has been unlawfully present in the U.S. for an aggregate period of more than one year, OR who has been ordered removed from the U.S., who then enters or attempts to enter the U.S. without being admitted is inadmissible for life.
Aliens Previously RemovedWaiver Availability
Aliens Previously Removed (INA 212(a)(9)(A))no waiver for aliens previously removed
Aliens Unlawfully Present (INA 212(a)(9)(B))no waiver
Aliens Unlawfully Present After Previous Immigration Violations (INA 212(a)(9)(C))no waiver


[INA § 212(a)(10)]

There are several miscellaneous reasons that a foreign national can be found inadmissible for the purposes of immigrating to the United States. For example, persons who have detained a U.S. citizen child outside the U.S. are inadmissible until they comply with any court order regarding the child’s custody. Additionally, any former U.S. citizens who have renounced their citizenship for tax purposes are inadmissible.

MiscellaneousWaiver Availability
Practicing Polygamists (INA 212(a)(10)(A))no waiver for polygamy
Guardian Required to Accompany Helpless Alien (INA 212(a)(10)(B))N/A
International Child Abduction (INA 212(a)(10)(C))child abduction grounds of inadmissibility provides no waiver
Unlawful Voters (INA 212(a)(10)(D))no waiver
Former Citizens Who Renounced Citizenship to Avoid Taxation (INA 212(a)(10)(E))no waiver

Other Considerations for Grounds of Inadmissibility

For immigration purposes, the grounds of admissibility apply to people who are outside or already inside the United States. Foreign nationals who are outside the U.S. applying to enter must not be inadmissible. Inadmissibility also applies to foreign nationals who are physically inside the U.S. and applying for a different status like a green card. Immigration law treats adjustment of status applicants like they’re outside the U.S. seeking entry, even though they’re already physically present in the United States.

There are multiple U.S. immigration agencies that may make a determination of inadmissibility. These include the U.S. Department of State, Customs and Border Protection, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. At any point that you request to enter the United States or change to another immigration status, these agencies can stop you if they find you to be inadmissible. If you're applying outside the U.S., it’s likely that your entry will be denied. If you're already in the U.S., you may be put into removal proceedings.

Do not analyze your own situation based on this list. This summary does not detail the requirements of the INA or the waivers. If your application for admission to the United States may be affected by grounds of inadmissibility, we highly recommend that you consult with an experienced immigration lawyer.

Waivers to Overcome Grounds of Inadmissibility

Is a waiver available to overcome my inadmissibility?

Waivers are typically applied for through the I-601 / I-601A extreme hardship or I-212 waiver process. Although the process is generally initiated with a form, the complexity of the legal issues (and importance of success) demands the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney. Only a licensed attorney can perform a careful analysis of all the grounds of inadmissibility that you may be subject to and provide strategies to overcome them.

Even though there may not be a waiver, some provisions in the law may provide a path for certain individuals to successfully obtain permanent residence. The Department of Homeland Security may grant permission to reapply for admission to the United States to a foreign national otherwise inadmissible. If any of the above grounds of inadmissibility apply to you, contact an immigration attorney before filing any USCIS form.

Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status

Use Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) to apply for permanent residence while in the United States. Each year, USCIS rejects or denies thousands of I-485 applications. Therefore, it's important to get it right.

each year an average of
I-485 applications are filed*
out of these
get rejected*
and another
get denied*

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