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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?

  • 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
  • You're asking about non-nationals with a foreign arrest, not inside the US, right? It would help if you say which country is "home": China? Argentina? Romania? – smci Dec 15 '14 at 16:02
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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.

  • 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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    In the UK, for example, if you're arrested and then released without being charged then there are no "documents issued by the court that address the original charges", because there are no original charges and you never went to court. You may not even have ever needed a lawyer, depending how long the arrest lasted. The only way you could get court documents would be if you made a false arrest claim or whatever, that reached the attention of a court. But a large majority of arrests that result in no charges, are not false arrests. – Steve Jessop Feb 3 '17 at 14:31
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    So for example, if a police officer arrests you with words like, "I am arresting you on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance...", then examines what they found and discovers it really was a baggie of sugar like you said, and cuts you loose with police documents but no court documents, it's not clear to me whether or not you have, in US immmigrations terms, been "arrested or convicted for... a violation related to a controlled substance". Maybe you can say no, since there was no controlled substance, albeit you were arrest on grounds of suspicion of there being one? Ask a lawyer. – Steve Jessop Feb 3 '17 at 14:38
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Be very careful with the arrest questions on ESTA even if there was no conviction. They have your entire arrest history on the screen in front of them the moment they are taking your finger prints and I know from experience there is a good chance that you will be denied entry and returned.

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    No. The OP is talking about a foreign arrest, not US. Depends on the country. – smci Dec 15 '14 at 15:59

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