Facing arrest is a worst-case scenario for most people regardless of their nationality. Depending on the offense someone gets accused of, an arrest might mean spending a night in jail, social and professional embarrassment, the loss of certain privileges, like their driver’s license, and even lengthy incarceration if the charges result in a conviction.

For immigrants who hope to stay in the United States long term, there is a second layer of risk beyond the basic criminal consequences associated with a charge. A conviction or guilty plea could have dire implications for immigrants, whether they live in the United States on a work visa or hope to become naturalized citizens.

Even minor criminal charges could affect changes to your status

Whether you want to upgrade your legal residence to make you a lawful permanent resident or you hope to complete the naturalization process to become a full-fledged United States citizen, a criminal conviction could destroy your opportunities for immigration.

Although you had to complete a background check before applying for a visa, you will also need to complete one when you apply for the adjustment of your status or for naturalization. Even minor infractions while in the country on a visa, especially if there has been more than one, could lead to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denying your request for naturalization or a Green Card.

More serious offenses could lead to deportation

While minor traffic infractions or parking tickets aren’t likely to result in someone failing a background test or getting deported, crimes that are violent or that go against the culture and values of the United States could result in severe immigration consequences. Anything that a judge or representative of the USCIS establishes as a crime of moral turpitude could result in deportation.

Obviously, most people facing criminal charges benefit from defending themselves, but it is doubly important for immigrants to avoid criminal convictions. Those who have gotten convicted of a crime can potentially also defend themselves from deportation in court.

If you worry that a pending charge or recent allegation against you will impact your path to citizenship or your right to stay in the United States, you may want to talk with an attorney familiar with both immigration policies and criminal law.