What should an F-1 student do if they get arrested in the United States?

Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States and out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri. International students who come to the United States on an F-1 student visa sometimes get into criminal trouble. We see this a lot with shoplifting, DUIs, little petty offenses. Obviously, more serious things can happen. We recently handled a case where a fellow had broken into his girlfriend’s apartment and assaulted her. Just like anybody else, international students are not the only ones who get into criminal trouble, but when an international student gets into criminal trouble, there are special concerns and considerations that have to be taken into account.

What am I talking about? An F-1 student visa is a non-immigrant visa. This means that there’s no long-term, immigration benefit to someone on an F-1. They may later switch to an immigrant visa, but when you’re in the United States on a non-immigrant visa, I like to tell people that you’re barely here. You are in the United States physically, but you’re here at the good graces of the United States. If the United States decides that you’re going to go, you’re going to go. There aren’t a lot of protections available to kids here in the United States on an F-1 visa who get into criminal trouble.

The first thing that you have to take into account is that you need to talk an immigration attorney. You want to make sure that when you talk to your criminal defense attorney that the two attorneys are talking back and forth because sometimes a deal that is good for a US citizen or green card holder would not be as good for the international student. A lot of times, the most serious consequences of a criminal offense are to have the international student deported. There aren’t a lot of protections available. One of the things that you have to keep in mind is that the international student could face what’s called expedited removal. Expedited removal is sort of a summary dismissal of the individual from the United States. You don’t have a lot of due process, you don’t even get the chance to go in front of a judge.

If you’re placed into expedited removal, you’re going to face serious trouble. You want to make sure that you are taking in account all the immigration consequences of any guilty pleas that the criminal defense attorney might be recommending. You’re going to get arrested and you’re going to get fingerprinted, and then you’re probably going to get a court date. You’re most likely going to be allowed out, unless the offense was particularly serious. You might have to stay in jail while the criminal charges are pending, but if you’re allowed out you need to make sure to talk to an immigration attorney. If you’re stuck in jail, you need to find a friend or a family member to contact the immigration attorney.

One of the things that we see a lot of is that the international student is ashamed or worried about talking to their family. We had a student recently who got caught shoplifting at a Wal-Mart and she was very reluctant to deal with the situation because she was going to have to face her parents. She was able to get a friend to help her pay for the legal fees and the criminal charge fees so that she can try to handle this on her own, but we don’t necessarily recommend that. If you can, you should tell your parents, you should tell your family and explain to them the situation because you don’t want to be making decisions on your own that could have long-term consequences for you from an immigration perspective.

When you get arrested, don’t say anything to the police. Tell them that you want to talk to a lawyer. Tell them that you’re not going to give them a statement. Don’t give them any kind of additional evidence to use against you. They will use it against you. Once your criminal proceedings are over, if you’ve taken a guilty plea, you could be placed under removal proceedings, deportation proceedings, even if your criminal defense attorney told you that you weren’t going to. If you have questions about what to do if you get arrested or what to do if you’re facing criminal charges as an F-1 international student, make sure to talk to an immigration attorney. We handle these cases here at our office pretty frequently, but where ever you are in the United States, you do not want to do this alone. You should not rely solely on the advice of your criminal defense attorney. A good criminal defense attorney is going to tell you to consult with an immigration attorney. We’re always very happy when international students come to us from criminal defense attorneys because that tells us that the criminal defense attorney know what’s going on.

It’s so complicated to figure out what’s going to happen to the immigrant based on the criminal charges. Every time we get a case like this, we start at the beginning and we look at all possible defenses and all available relief. We encourage you to contact an immigration attorney if you’re facing a criminal situation like this. Don’t be ashamed, don’t be worried, it’s just a mistake, it’s not your whole life. It doesn’t define you. You really need to make sure that you do what you can to protect yourself from an immigration standpoint so hopefully you can continue going to school, complete your studies, and go on about your life. If you have any questions, give us a call. 314-961-8200. You can email us at jim@hackinglawpractice.com. Thanks.