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When entering the USA I am often asked "Have you ever been arrested?" to which, fortunately, I can honestly answer "No."

Question 'B' on form I-94 also begins "Have you ever been arrested...?"

At home, I know of multiple instances of police arresting people with no criminal record just to release and never charge them. For those unfortunate people, what are the consequences of answering "yes" to "Have you ever been arrested?"

In other words, how severely would being mistakenly arrested at home impact my ability to travel to the USA?

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Keep in mind that the I94W form you've linked to is no longer used unless you're entering by land. For all air entries you will need an ESTA, and it will ask you this question - so at least you'll know the impact of answering yes before you reach the border. –  Doc Feb 22 '13 at 23:42
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up vote 8 down vote accepted

I found a link for international students that addresses this very question:

If you are entering the United States, you may be stopped by the Customs and Border Protection Officer at the inspection booth if the officer sees an arrest or fingerprint record reported in the database. That officer may take you to a separate interview area. As with the visa application, it is essential that you have with you documents issued by the court that address the original charges, and the subsequent disposition of the case. A letter from the lawyer who assisted you, that explains the charges and the judgment is also helpful.

So long story short. If you check this box because you have been arrested you should have documentation that this was the case of mistaken identity or you have been released with no criminal issues pending. According to the page I linked above the consular services actually can (in some cases) perform a full background checks before considering granting you a visa.

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In other words: If you've been arrested, and there's no record of it, you shouldn't tick "yes" –  Jonas Feb 22 '13 at 22:51
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@Jonas One would need a lawyer because there are some countries that make a distinction between detention and arrest. :) –  Karlson Feb 23 '13 at 1:16
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