For more information on travelling to the US, use the ‘Information’ header at the top of this page and select ‘Travelling abroad‘
For anybody considering travelling to the USA, the questions asked about convictions on the ESTA application form changed in November 2014. We’ve covered this in our simple and detailed guides on travelling to the US, but this specific information focuses on how to answer the new questions.
Changes to the ESTA question
The questions changed to:-
- Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?
- Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using or distributing illegal drugs?
- Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage or genocide?
- Have you ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States?
Questions 2 to 4 are quite easy to answer but question 1, probably less so.
Is there any guidance from US immigration on question 1?
The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) on-line help, gives the following guidance associated with question 1:-
‘This question refers to crimes involving moral turpitude – such offences generally involve conduct which is inherently base, vile or depraved and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed to persons or society in general. There are factors, such as the age of the offender or the date of the offence that may affect whether an offence will be considered a crime involving moral turpitude for purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act’.
What is ‘moral turpitude’?
Our Helpline receives many calls from individuals looking for a definition of ‘moral turpitude’. By looking through the Consular guidance given to officials to help them decide whether to give someone a visa to the US or not, we have been able to identify a number of convictions that would not be classed as ‘moral turpitude’.
Crimes against property which do not fall within the definition of moral turpitude
(1) Damaging private property (where intent to damage not required);
(2) Breaking and entering (requiring no specific or implicit intent to commit a crime involving moral turpitude);
(3) Passing bad checks (where intent to defraud not required);
(4) Possessing stolen property (if guilty knowledge is not essential);
(5) Joy riding (where the intention to take permanently not required); and
(6) Juvenile delinquency
Crimes committed against governmental authority, which would not constitute moral turpitude for visa-issuance purposes
(1) Black market violations;
(2) Breach of the peace;
(3) Carrying a concealed weapon;
(4) Desertion from the Armed Forces;
(5) Disorderly conduct;
(6) Drunk or reckless driving;
(8) Escape from prison;
(9) Failure to report for military induction;
(10) False statements (not amounting to perjury or involving fraud);
(11) Firearms violations;
(12) Gambling violations;
(13) Immigration violations;
(14) Liquor violations;
(15) Loan sharking;
(16) Lottery violations;
(17) Possessing burglar tools (without intent to commit burglary);
(18) Smuggling and customs violations (where intent to commit fraud is absent);
(19) Tax evasion (without intent to defraud); and
Crimes committed against the person, family relationship, or sexual morality which do not involve moral turpitude
(1) Assault (simple) (i.e., any assault, which does not require an evil intent or depraved motive, although it may involve the use of a weapon, which is neither dangerous nor deadly);
(2) Illegitimacy (i.e., the offense of begetting an illegitimate child);
(3) Creating or maintaining a nuisance (where knowledge that premises were used for prostitution is not necessary);
(4) Incest (when a result of a marital status prohibited by law);
(5) Involuntary manslaughter (when killing is not the result of recklessness);
(7) Mailing an obscene letter;
(8) Mann Act violations (where coercion is not present);
(9) Riot; and
(10) Suicide (attempted).
How should I answer question 1?
If your offence is one of those listed above, you can answer ‘No’ to Question 1 on the ESTA application form as it would not be classed as an offence involving ‘moral turpitude’.
A lot of the offences listed above are fairly easy to match with a UK equivalent but there are others which are a lot more difficult to interpret. If in doubt, you would need to contact the US Embassy – we’re unable to provide categorical answers to whether a particular offence is classed as moral turpitude or not.