Short answer: Libel is not normally considered a CIMT per 9 FAM 302.3-2(B)(2).
Long answer: When applying for a non-immigrant or immigrant visa, care must be taken if you have criminal charges or a conviction on your record from anywhere in the world. Even if the offense is for a non-violent offense, if the offense is deemed a CIMT (crime involving moral turpitude), this could be a basis of a finding of inadmissibility to the U.S. Inadmissibility means that the person is barred from entering the U.S. for any reason unless a waiver is obtained. There are separate waivers for non-immigrant and immigrant visa contexts.
What if an applicant has a conviction for libel or defamation, which is an offense in some countries? Libel is not a crime in most U.S. states; it is an issue that is dealt with mostly through civil litigation. In some countries, however, libel is a criminal law offense and can result in fines or even incarceration. Can a libel conviction on an applicant’s record still make them inadmissible to the U.S.?
An important point here is that not all criminal offenses trigger inadmissibility. Only crimes that the U.S. government considers a “crime involving moral turpitude” (CIMT) make a person inadmissible. This means if a crime is found not to be a CIMT, the person would not be restricted from obtaining a non-immigrant or immigrant visa based on that conviction.
A CIMT has been defined as a conduct “inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general,” and must involve conduct that is inherently “morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong,” and must require a “culpable mental state” such as recklessness or an intent to injure. This definition is prone to various interpretations, though, so careful analysis of the criminal statute in question is needed as well as a review of the relevant case law as it has evolved throughout the years.
The foreign affairs manual gives a bit more concrete guidance on what consular officers will normally not find to be a CIMT and thus will not trigger inadmissibility, which includes the following:
- Simple assault (which does not require an evil intent or depraved motive)
- Creating or maintaining a nuisance
- Involuntary manslaughter (where only negligence is required for conviction)
- Mailing an obscene letter
- Attempted suicide
If you have a conviction or if you have ever faced charged regarding libel or any of the above offenses that are normally not seen as a CIMT, it is nevertheless important to bring all relevant documents to the visa interview and be prepared to answer questions about the incident. For example, it is recommended to bring:
- A copy of the statute the conviction (or charge) was under
- Relevant sentencing guidelines for that offense
- All court records relating to the case
- All police records
- Translation of all documents to English if it is a foreign conviction.
Understanding the consequences of a criminal conviction is a very important step in navigating your options to obtain a visa or green card to visit, work, or live in the United States. This can be a very complex inquiry so it is highly recommended that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney.
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