Over The Road is a series of three articles written for the national trucking publication by the same name. The articles cover the issues surrounding criminal records and the United States border as they relate to Canadians who work in the trucking industry.
The other day I was talking to a nice guy about his criminal record. He was a trucker. He had been a trucker for years. He had crossed the border regularly since starting his career back in ‘82. He was an upstanding man. He was a family man. He owned a home. He owned his rig. He loved his children. He was an all around solid guy and he was actually a pleasure to talk to on the phone (I get a few of the other sort in my line of work). He also happened to have a criminal record and the week prior to our conversation he had been stopped at the US border. It was the same US border he’d been crossing for decades. Only this time they wouldn’t let him, or his truck full of goods, into the country.
“So what the heck happened” he asked me?
The thing I realized is that this guy had no idea his criminal record even existed. He just thought it was so old it must have evaporated or disappeared all on its own. He also didn’t realize that crossing the border is illegal if you have ever been arrested, which presents a particular problem to those of you whose livelihood depends on it. As far as trucking is concerned, for the long routes south in particular, a criminal record is the kiss of death. It will end a trip faster than 18 flats at once and it is actually a fairly easy problem to take care of.
If you are in a situation like this it means a few things. It means you have an active criminal record you never dealt with. It means the American border guards are aware of your criminal record. And it means you have been deemed “inadmissible” by the Department of Homeland Security or DHS. It also means you have only one option. You need an I-192 USA entry waiver and you will need one for the rest of your life so long as you want to cross into the United States of America.
As I explained to my trucker friend on line 1, an I-192 is an application made to the very department that doesn’t want you in the States. It is a long list of bureaucratic government paperwork and it takes a long time to complete. Expect the application to take anywhere from 10 – 18 months start to finish. And no, you cannot enter the United States while it is in process.
The successful completion of your application will grant you permission to cross the border for a period of 1, 2 or 5 years. It depends on a few things. It depends largely on the extent of the criminal record, the severity of the crimes committed and the length of time that has passed since you were last arrested. So, if you were just caught smuggling many kilos of contraband into Canada in the last few months there is a very good chance the Americans will refuse your application. If you haven’t been arrested since you were a kid pulling pranks there is about zero chance your application will not be granted. And it is likely to be granted for a period of 5 year, provided the paperwork is done properly of course.
You want to make sure that your application is done as well as possible because they cost in the area of $1000 – $1500 and the fee is applicable for each time you renew. I do suggest using a pardon and waiver service because they will know what needs to be done to ensure your best chance at a 5 year waiver.
I also suggest being extremely careful when choosing your service. In the past year I have seen the industry explode with about 9 new companies opening their doors all with next to zero experience and no guarantee they will be around long enough to finish your application. They all offer impossible discounts and care a lot more about securing your application fee than determining what your actual chances are of obtaining a waiver.
I signed up my trucker friend on the phone and began processing his waiver the same day. He is now a lot closer to getting back on his old long haul route but it is going to take some time to push through the bureaucracy and secure the waiver. So if you are in the same situation stop procrastinating and get things under way because a driver inadmissible at the border is not a very valuable driver. And even though it might seem expensive clearing your name is one thing I can assure you is worth the money.
I want to point out that all of the above applies if the Americans are aware of your criminal record. It would also apply if you have ever been deported from the United States. It would apply if you have ever been arrested in the United States. And it would also apply if you have ever been refused entry at the border for any reason at all, regardless of whether or not you have a criminal record. I have few dozen clients who have done no more than admit to smoking marijuana once in their life. Once you do that there is no discussion. You are not entering the United States of America.
And finally, if you have a criminal record but none of the conditions in the above paragraph apply to you there is another option for gaining entry to the States. It is a better, cheaper, faster and more affordable option. It is also permanent. So stay tuned to Over the Road and in my next article I will explain what to do with a criminal record that the Americans know nothing about.