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I am a British citizen by birth and I have just found out that my great-grandmother is very ill in hospital. She is an American citizen by birth and has lived there for most of her life. I also have some extended family in the US. My mum and grandmother are flying to the US from the UK on ESTA's within the next week to visit my great-grandmother.

I also want to see her but I have a few relatively recent criminal convictions (about 2-3 years ago). Previously I had never had a criminal record whatsoever, and I am in my 30's. Without going into great detail and at the risk of sounding like I am making excuses for the things that I did wrong, all of these convictions (approximately 8) were amassed within a 2-month period due to my personal circumstances at the time. The offenses include common assault and a few cases of driving under the influence of drugs.

I have long completed all of the requirements of my probation order and I believe the convictions are now classed as 'spent' in the UK; however I understand that this has no bearing in the US.

I am a skilled professional, have my own house, and I have been in full-time employment for 1 year in a senior role. My demeanor is now nothing like what it was at the time of those offenses (despite the inferences you might draw from the undertone of this question!)

After reading some pages on the ESTA website, CBP website and some .gov links, they recommend not attempting to travel on an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program if you have ever been arrested, cautioned, or convicted; and to instead apply for a Visa.

My question is: if I was to enter the US by car from Canada, would this alleviate some of the usual background checks etc? I would be given an I-94W form. I have read some threads on here and heard bits of hearsay from people stating that the Customs procedure is far more relaxed when entering the US by road; even as far as saying that a quick passport check was all that was asked of them when entering. Is any of this true? If so, to what extent?

In what other ways would entering by land differ from entering by air?

Which border crossings (if any) might be stricter than others with their checks?

Are there any sections of the US-Canada border that can be freely crossed on foot? I.e. without a Customs office, not separated by a fence or wall, etc. For example areas with mountainous or otherwise difficult to cross terrain? I know I am really stretching it here...

Any answers at all or bits of advice in the comments would be very much appreciated. No matter how pessimistic your comment or answer is! Anything is really appreciated, because I'm completely clueless to it all at the moment and I don't know who else I'd ask given the timeframe. To be quite frank, if a particular "solution" means that I will run the risk of not being allowed to return to the US but grants me entry for 4 days (or even 1), then that's fine too. Even if it means I have to take a route or follow an itinerary that would add a week to the journey.

As it stands, I think I would need to go to the US Consulate in London to try to get an expedited visa to fly by air; but this could be refused and I assume this would then show up on the system when my passport is checked if I subsequently tried to enter by road.

I don't want to go about things the wrong way (I have genuinely learned from my experiences a few years ago) but I will do anything if it means I can see my great-grandmother, e.g. maybe there is some option to enter for the purpose of transiting the US only; in order to reduce the travel time of a particular route through Canada by car?

I am trying to get to the Mid-West of the US.

Thanks a lot for any help or advice you can give me - I really do appreciate it a lot!

  • Welcome to travel.stackexchange. I'm so sorry to hear about your great-grandmother's health. I think your thought process might be going in the wrong direction, because in my understanding, Canada is at least as strict as the US about letting people with criminal records enter -- the same problems you're worried about with entering the US would apply just as much with regard to entering Canada. – ajd Dec 13 '18 at 3:42
  • @ajd Thanks for taking the time to reply. That did occur to me. Am I deluded in thinking that being British would make it easier for me to get into Canada than a person of non-Commonwealth nationality trying to enter? Also, would it help at all if I was to fly to Canada for the purposes of a business trip? E.g. by going to a relevant event or expo as an attendee. – Anonymous User Dec 13 '18 at 3:45
  • Both the USA and Canada are quite happy in general to let British citizens enter for visits, I rather doubt that the Commonwealth connection would change much. An advantage of going straight to the US is that you only have to get past one set of officials instead of two. My experience crossing the US--Canada land border (in both directions, but as a US citizen) are that the officials there are rather more thorough than those at airports. – ajd Dec 13 '18 at 3:53
  • @ajd Thanks a lot for your advice, it is helpful. If you have any suggestions for how you think I should go about this, I'd be really grateful for it. Even entering legitimately it seems like there are a few different options for doing so/getting a visa. Thanks again. – Anonymous User Dec 13 '18 at 3:55
  • In particular, Canada requires you to get special dispensation to enter if you've ever had a DUI, while the US is much more lenient in this regard. – ajd Dec 13 '18 at 3:57
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On entry into the US by land you will be required to complete a green I94W form.

One of the questions on this form asks if you have had any arrests for crimes involving moral turpitude or any drugs offenses, which you will have to answer "Yes" to.

Given these crimes were recent, and especially given the nature of them that you have mentioned (assault and drugs crimes are two hot-zones for US immigration) you will almost certainly be refused entry and returned to Canada. (This presumes that you were even allowed into Canada in the first place, which would require the pre-approval of an eTA, the Canadian equivalent of an ESTA).

Your best option right now is to attempt to apply for an ESTA, and answer the questions on the form honestly. If your ESTA is approved, then you can travel to the US and you will most likely have no issues entering the country.

However realistically the odds of your ESTA being approved are low, and you will be required to apply for a US visa at at US consulate. Here's where the story gets worse - odds are your visa application will be denied. You may then be allowed to apply for a waiver of ineligibility, however this will likely take 3-6 months to receive a decision, and there's still a real chance it will still be denied.

Of course, all of this is based on your basic description of your offenses. It's possible an ESTA will be approved, and if not it's possible that a visa will be approved - the only way to find out is to try and apply. As long as you are truthful in answering the questions, the odds of having issues at the border once either an ESTA or visa are approved is extremely low.

  • "waiver of intelligibility" -- do you mean "waiver of ineligibility"? – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Dec 13 '18 at 7:27
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    Gotta love spell-check, right? Apparently I didn't look closely enough at what word it had picked! I guess it's just not as intelligible as I thought it was! – Doc Dec 13 '18 at 7:56

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