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I was convicted of a crime in the US approximately 37 years ago in 1987. The sentence I received exceeds what the United Kingdom terms a ban (I served four years). Is there any way that I can get some type of waiver or a visitor's visa? I will be flying in from Ireland from the US.

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    Has the British government ever had knowledge of this conviction/sentence served? (Asking for a friend ;-).) Mar 5 at 12:29
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica Both countries are parties to FVES, so quite possibly, yes.
    – Sneftel
    Mar 5 at 17:48
  • @SneftelGoogling FVES brings up VHF stuff. Mar 5 at 20:11
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica perhaps Sneftel meant FVEY, the intelligence sharing alliance that the US and UK are party to Mar 6 at 1:36
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica And even if they were, they would not routinely be shared with law enforcement. If someone is deemed a threat, they are more likely to end up on some no-entry list than see their files shared with tens of thousands of random police, border force, or diplomatic staff. They are a whole of reasons (legal, technical and operational) why you wouldn't want intelligence data to be shared so widely, I never really understood where all the talk about Five eyes and the like in the context of immigration comes from but I am yet to see any evidence that it's used in that way.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 6 at 21:38

2 Answers 2

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The rules for admitting people with criminal records to the UK are very strict.

9.4.1. An application for entry clearance, permission to enter or permission to stay must be refused where the applicant:

(a) has been convicted of a criminal offence in the UK or overseas for which they have received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more; or

(b) is a persistent offender who shows a particular disregard for the law; or

(c) has committed a criminal offence, or offences, which caused serious harm

An immigration officer has no discretion and will automatically refuse the application.

"UNLOCK", an organization that lobbies on behalf of those with criminal convictions, says of this law:

Where this paragraph applies, unless refusal would be contrary to the Human Rights Convention or the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, it will only be in exceptional circumstances that the public interest in maintaining refusal will be outweighed by compelling factors.

It's possible that after 37 years your conviction and sentence have been legally removed from your record (meaning that you can officially state that they do not exist). Serious offences normally stay on your record unless they are explicitly expunged. The legalities of this are far beyond the scope of a website devoted to travel. You could try asking on our Law site, but you would be much better off consulting a lawyer.

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    Paragraph 9.4.1 seems rather unclear to me. Shouldn't there be either an and or an or between these three clauses? (There isn't – I checked and you've quoted it accurately.) If 9.4.1(a) only applies, but neither (b) nor (c) applies, must a visa be refused? Mar 5 at 10:59
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    @RichardSmith: A lot of lists in the document (including this one, I'd say) don't make sense with an "and". The intent seems to consistently be "or". That said, on page 16, you'll find the following: "Where a person has been convicted of a criminal offence in the UK or overseas for which they have received a custodial sentence of at least 12 months or more you must refuse their application." No list there. Mar 5 at 11:16
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    In the Immigration Rules that this document cites, paragraph 9.4.1 also includes the "or"s that were omitted in this document. Mar 5 at 11:19
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    @shoover Or. See the comments above yours.
    – phoog
    Mar 5 at 19:57
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    Could the OP apply for a visa in the States before visiting? I believe there's a US Embassy or Consulate in London for Brits with convictions wanting to travel to the US, and they have to attend an interview & state their case. Perhaps there is a British Embassy or Consulate in the States to help with similar? Mar 6 at 15:11
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You can just try your luck, assuming you're OK with getting deported

You're flying from the US to the UK via Ireland, meaning you'd be passing passport control in Ireland and then flying to the UK where flights from Ireland are not routinely checked. This means UK immigration officers are unlikely to ever see your passport but Irish immigration will definitely inspect it. According to the Irish Immigration Act:

(3) Subject to section 2(2), an immigration officer may, on behalf of the Minister, refuse to give a permission to a person referred to in subsection (2) if the officer is satisfied—

...

(d) that the non-national has been convicted (whether in the State or elsewhere) of an offence that may be punished under the law of the place of conviction by imprisonment for a period of one year or by a more severe penalty;

Ireland is not a part of the Five Eyes agreement and it doesn't ask about your criminal past by default, so there's a chance you'd be able to enter Ireland. My understanding of the law is that you're not required to voluntarily divulge information about your past, unless explicitly asked about it by an immigration officer. Afterwards there's a very high chance you'd be able to board your flight to the UK without a problem. The UK doesn't do exit immigration checks, so you will likewise not see an immigration official on your way back to the US.

But if you do get flagged, you'll have to answer honestly about your criminal past and you might end up getting deported back home. This can be an unpleasant experience: we have a report from another Travel.SE user where they (almost) got deported back home. If you're OK with taking such a risk, I'd just buy a ticket to the UK via Ireland as you've originally planned and hope for the best.

I estimate an ~85% chance of your plan succeeding. But this is a very rough guess, I could easily be wrong in either direction.

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  • This is not advisable. A deportation will cost a lot more than practical removal: it will virtually GUARANTEE permanent exclusion from the UK - because you LIED about it. I'm a former Immigration Officer, and the one thing that causes us to feel negatively towards any passenger more than anything else is when the passenger tries to DECEIVE us. Do not do this, We WILL find out, Mar 7 at 14:42
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    @ChrisMelville OP is already semi-excluded so this is not much of a threat.
    – JonathanReez
    Mar 7 at 15:28
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    @Chris According to the UK rules listed in DJClayworth’s answer, the asker is already permanently excluded from the UK. The worst-case scenario here is no worse than the situation they are already in. Mar 7 at 22:45
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    @ChrisMelville there is plenty of research showing that police officers are just as bad at detecting deception as ordinary people (i.e., they do no better than chance). Thinking immigration officers are any better is self-deception.
    – Notso
    Mar 8 at 5:31
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    Never mind the fact that nothing about this plan requires OP to lie to an immigration officer at any point. On the off-chance he is stopped and asked, they may simply tell the truth, and be refused entry.
    – Notso
    Mar 8 at 5:33

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