Travelling to US – Applying for a visa

Aim of this page

This section focuses specifically on the visa application process for those travelling to the US for 90 days or less for leisure or business purposes who have a criminal record.

It forms part of our information on travelling to the US including

Why is this important?

Once you have established that you are not eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) it’s important to have a good understanding of the costs and time involved in applying for a visa.

It’s also worth considering what other information you may need in preparation for your interview at the US Embassy.

Applying for a visa

If you’re not able to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you will have to apply for a visa if you want to visit the United States. The information below relates to applying for a Visitors Business and Pleasure B-2 Visa. Requirements may vary for other types of visa.

How do I apply for a visa?

A visa is issued by a US Embassy and entitles the holder to travel to the US and apply for admission. It does not guarantee entry. An immigration inspector at the port of entry will determine the visa holder’s eligibility for admission into the US.

A non-immigrant visa is required by anyone seeking temporary admission into the US who is not eligible to travel visa free under the VWP. Non-immigrant visas cover visits for tourism, business, work or study. The process of applying for a visa involves submitting forms electronically and therefore it’s necessary for you to have internet access. Further information on Visitors Business and Pleasure B-2 Visas can be found here.

The Embassy recommends that individuals apply for visas well in advance of their proposed date of travel. No assurances regarding the issuance of visas can be given in advance. Therefore, final travel plans or the purchase of non-refundable tickets should not be made until a visa has been issued and you are in receipt of your passport.

What is the process for applying for a B-2 visa (Holiday visa)?

For more information on applying for different types of visa click here to read information on the US Embassy website.

In general, holidaymakers to the United States will require a valid B-2 visa. If issued, they are valid for a maximum of 10 years, but the length of the visa will vary depending on the circumstances

If you have been arrested or convicted of a crime, you are required to do the following – each step is explained in more detail below:

  1. Step 1 – Complete the online visa application form – You need to complete a non-immigrant visa application form (DS-160) and pay the appropriate fee.
  2. Step 2 – Provide details of your criminal record – You do this by completing a Personal Data Sheet (VCU01).
  3. Step 3 – Provide official confirmation of your criminal record – You do this by obtaining a police certificate from ACPO issued less than six months before your visa interview.
  4. Step 4 – Arrange an interview at the embassy – You need to arrange and attend an interview at the US Embassy with the Visa Coordination Officer.
  5. Step 5 – Attend the interview.
  6. Step 6 – Wait for the decision

STEP 1 – Complete the visa application form

Firstly, you will have to complete a non-immigrant visa application form (DS-160). This must be filled out online.

A non-immigrant visa application costs $160 which is approximately £100. Payment is made at the time of scheduling the non-immigrant visa interview with the Operator Assisted Information Service (see the section on arranging an interview). On confirmation that your payment has been accepted, the operator will schedule the appointment. Confirmation of the appointment date and time will be sent by email together with a receipt for the application fee. You will need to take this with you to your interview.

Questions on the visa application form (DS-160) regarding arrests and convictions

In the “Security and Background Section”, it asks:

  • “Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offence or crime, even though subject of a pardon, amnesty, or other similar action?”
  • “Have you ever violated, or engaged in a conspiracy to violate, any law relating to controlled substances?”
  • “Have you ever been involved in, or do you seek to engage in, money laundering?”
  • “Have you committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings, political killings, or other acts of violence?”
How to answer the question “Have you ever been arrested or convicted?”

On the US Embassy website it states that “if you are not sure whether or not you are eligible to travel visa free, the only way to resolve this question would be to apply for a visa. The embassy and the Live Operator Information Service cannot provide any further guidance on this matter until you appear in person before a consular officer.”

When Unlock approached the US Embassy, they stated that “it does not matter what the criminal offence was or how long ago it occurred. The person will need to be interviewed, because each case is dealt with on an individual basis.” The embassy stated that the need to declare a conviction has been in place since 1988, but agrees that, since September 11 2001, there has been a gradual tightening of the regulations.

Under US Immigration law, if you have been arrested at any time, you are required to declare the arrest when applying for a visa. If the arrest resulted in a conviction, you may be permanently ineligible to receive a visa. If you are permanently ineligible, in order to travel, a waiver of the permanent ineligibility is required.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to the United States visa law. Therefore, even travellers with a spent conviction are required to declare the arrest and/or conviction.

The question asked by the US previously related to offences involving ‘moral turpitude’. This is no longer the case. However, as part of their decision making process, they will look at your case and place specific emphasis on those offences which involve moral turpitude.

STEP 2 – Provide details of your criminal record

As well as the visa application form, because of your arrest/conviction information, you will have to complete a Personal Data Sheet (VCU-01) where you will need to include details about your arrests/cautions/convictions. This form must be completed electronically.

If you’re not sure of the details surrounding your arrest or conviction, you can use the ACRO Police Certificate (see below) to help you.

STEP 3 – Provide official confirmation of your criminal record – Police certificate

Applicants applying for visas at the US Embassy are required to provide a police certificate from the Association of Chief Officers (ACPO) Criminal Records Office (ACRO) issued within 6 months of the visa interview. Information on obtaining the police certificate is available here. You should obtain this certificate in advance of completing the Personal Data Sheet so that you are able to provide accurate information about each arrest/conviction.

The original police certificate will be retained on file by the Embassy. If you wish to have the original document returned to you on the day of the interview, you should take a photocopy of the document and a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the interview. Alternatively, additional copies of the certificate can be requested at the time of application.

What if I was convicted in the United States?

If you were arrested and/or convicted of an offence in the United States, you are required to obtain a court record from the court(s) in which you were tried. Such court records must show the nature of the offence(s) committed, the section(s) of law contravened and the actual penalty imposed. If the arrest did not result in a conviction, you may submit with your application the documents relating to the arrest. If you are no longer in possession of these documents, you may submit a sworn statement which gives the reason and location of the arrest, state and county. If you do not know the address of the court, the information is available online. Applicants are also required to obtain a police certificate from ACRO issued within 6 months of the visa interview.

What if  I was convicted in a country other than the United States or the United Kingdom?

If you were arrested and/or convicted of an offence in another country, you are required to obtain a court record from the court(s) in which you were tried. Such court records must show the nature of the offence(s) committed, the section(s) of law contravened and the actual penalty imposed. If the arrest did not result in a conviction, you may submit with your application the documents relating to the arrest. If you are no longer in possession of these documents, you may submit a sworn statement which gives reason and location of the arrest, state and county. Applicants are also required to obtain a police certificate from ACRO issued within 6 months of the visa interview.

STEP 4 – Arrange an interview

Once you’ve completed the visa application, you need to request an appointment with the Visa Coordination Officer at the US Embassy in London. The embassy does not accept walk-in appointments. The typical waiting time for an appointment is usually around 2 weeks.

An appointment for an interview can be arranged online.

How much will it cost?

STEP 5 – Attend the interview

What do I need to do before the interview?

You need to gather the documents you need to bring to the interview, including:

  1. Confirmation page of the DS-160
  2. The Non-Immigrant Visa Interview Confirmation Letter
  3. A print out of the receipt for the MRV application fee which is sent together with the Non-Immigrant Interview Confirmation Letter
  4. Your passport
  5. Any supporting material to help your case (see below).
How can I increase my chances of being successful?

State your circumstances and highlight the most important facts that support your case. Important factors include:

  • Family ties in the UK
  • Your reason for travel
  • Remorse regarding your conviction
  • Your change in character
  • The financial ability to fund your stay
  • Having a paid job in the UK (it shows you have a strong reason to come back to the UK – consider taking a copy of your contract of employment or a letter from your employer detailing the purpose of your visit)
  • Have as much information as possible to hand to the interviewer.
What happens on the day of the interview?

Only applicants with a scheduled appointment will be admitted into the embassy, the exception being children under the age of 18 accompanied by a parent, translators and assistants for the disabled. If you require assistance, then you will need to give the name of the person who will accompany you to the operator when calling to schedule the appointment.

On the day of your interview, a set of your fingerprints will be electronically scanned. If you have a cut or blister on any of your fingers or thumbs, then your application will not be processed. You will be required to reschedule an appointment for a later date.

If you arrive at the embassy more than 30 minutes after your scheduled appointment you will not be seen by a consular officer. You will be required to reschedule a new appointment for another day.

You should anticipate being at the embassy for approximately two to three hours.

How long will I have to wait for a decision?

After the interview, the typical wait time is 4 working days for a non-immigrant visa to be processed. However, processing wait time does not include the time required for administrative processing for those applications which require additional processing. These procedures require additional time, and often apply to people with previous convictions.

When administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on the individual circumstances of each case. The embassy state that most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of application but that you need to wait at least 90 days from the date of interview or submission of supplementary documents, whichever is later, before making status enquiries. In some cases, processing can extend to six months or longer. Processing wait time also does not include the time required to return the passport to you by courier.

All passports will be returned by DX Secure, a courier agency contracted to the US Embassy. The fee for the courier service starts at £18.00, payable by credit or debit card.

Visa processing will not be completed on the day of the interview. Therefore it will not be possible to hand back your passport. Your passport will be handed to DX Secure once the embassy have completed processing. A further four weeks should be allowed for the visa to be issued and the passport returned.

The processing times quoted are approximate and cannot be guaranteed. It is important that you keep this in mind when applying for the visa. It is not possible to speed up your case simply because you have not allowed sufficient time for your application to be processed.

Until this point, you are effectively barred from international travel, because your passport will be held at the embassy.

STEP 6 – Wait for a decision

How do I check the status of my application?

The direct link to a document which outlines the status of outstanding applications can be found here. In order to check the status of your application, you will require your Batch Number (found on the 221(g) leaflet handed to you at the visa interview).

How do I use the DX Secure Tracking Service?

You can track the progress of your passport online by visiting www.thedx.co.uk/tracking once DX Secure are in receipt of it. You will need your invoice number and the postcode quoted on the invoice.

Your passport will not be handed to the courier company until the visa section of the embassy has processed your application. If your passport has not been handed to the courier company, you will receive a message saying “Sorry, this combination of tracking number and postcode do not correspond with our records. Please check and try again.”

Personal experiences

The personal story below has been posted on theRecord, our online magazine

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Useful links

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on travelling to the US
  2. To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine under the tag of travelling to the USA
  3. To discuss this with others – Read and share your experience on our online forum
  4. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Send your feedback directly to us
  2. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  3. Share your story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord
This page was last fully reviewed and updated in August 2017. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing the details to advice@unlock.org.uk.
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  • Cheeky Sean

    I am on the sex offenders’ register for something fairly minor (18 months, 9 in jail, no license after the 18 months). Is this one of the ‘watchlists’ that show up on passport checks? Or can I still keep shtum?

    Supposing I notify the authorities I’m leaving to Ireland and then go thence to the USA (so the UK authorities don’t forewarn the US)?

  • srbg1958

    Hi Sean, I am facing a slightly similar situation as you as 8 years ago I stupidly sent an email including Japanese art which depicted indecent images to someone I knew ( long story ) whose partner was a police officer. Subsequently I was arrested for sharing indecent images and received a police caution. I now wish to emigrate to the US to marry my fiancé who lives there. Just wondering how things are going for you.

  • Simon Willis

    I went down the visa route after I had received a simple caution for an image found on an old laptop, which the police couldn’t even date. The embassy didn’t care to listen about the circumstances of me receiving the caution and I was refused entry to the US on the spot. I now wish I had simply gone using the waiver program after reading information on this site.

  • Kriss

    Hey people, I’m on the SOR for indecent images.. Register for 15 years.. I’m ashamed of my past and doing my best to have a fresh start.
    My question is, can I/ people on the register go on holiday to the states??

  • Unknown1986

    Hi Guys
    My partner has a spent crim conviction at the end of April 2017. It was Theft from Asda. We are thinking of going Abroad in November but will have to pass US airports as we are transiting passengers. Whats the general rule of thumb here? would he apply for a VISA? It says ESTA is usually rejected on basis of theft from property, but this isnt a property. Any advice would be appreciated