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Immigration Status and Arrests

Most students will not get into legal trouble while in the United States. However, in the event that you are stopped by the police or are arrested for something, there are a few things you should know.

The information on this page is very general and should not be considered a substitute for advice from a qualified legal professional about your individual situation. We recommend that you search for an attorney affiliated with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). AILA is a national association of attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. In addition, you can review the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU's brochure describing how to "Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement." A good, inexpensive place to start seeking legal assistance for non-criminal matters is through Legal Aid of Southeast and Central Ohio.


  • Be aware of what else is happening in larger group settings, such as protests, political demonstrations, sporting events, concerts, or parties off-campus. You may not have caused violence/damage yourself, but if you’re part of the group, you could still be charged.
  • Laws vary from state to state; make sure you know the rules of the state you are in if you travel. This could mean differences in marijuana legality, rules around alcohol consumption and purchase, etc.
  • Keep in mind that your immigration status is granted/managed by the Federal government and not any one state. Violations of Federal laws (whether or not the same action violates state law) could result in consequences for your immigration status.

If you are stopped by police, remain calm. Provide your name when asked, and if driving, provide your license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.  Don’t run, resist, or obstruct the officers. Do not lie or give false documents. Don’t offer to pay the officers to “fix” the problem. If you are arrested, we strongly recommend that you have an attorney present when speaking with the police. Police can use any information you tell them to build a case against you, and it is in your best interest to have an attorney present to advise you.

Immigration status complicates almost every legal violation because a guilty plea, a plea of no contest, or even attending a program for offenders may impact immigration status. A US citizen or permanent resident may feel that a specific charge isn’t a “big deal”, because they know they will face a fine or community service. As a visa-holder, you face the same consequences, but with the added possibility of loss of visa, which could result in an inability to complete your degree as planned. An international student facing criminal charges should seek advice from counsel with expertise in both criminal and immigration law. We have added information relevant to several common questions below.

If you have been detained or arrested, Denison recommends that you notify your academic adviser, department and/or professors (when possible) if you will be unable to attend classes. When you are released by the police, you should communicate with the Office of Community Values and Student Conduct about your arrest and charges. Law enforcement officials where you are arrested will generally share information about your arrest with Campus Safety so that Denison is aware of what has occurred.
If you are facing the immediate threat of deportation, contact the Center for Global Programs at 740.587.6532 during normal business hours. Outside of regular business hours, call the Denison Operator at 740.587.0810 and the dispatcher will connect you with a Global Programs staff member.
If you are arrested by the police in the U.S., the officer must recite your “Miranda rights” to you. You’ve probably heard these on U.S. television shows. They include lines like, “You have the right to remain silent,” and “You have the right to consult an attorney.”
No. Normally a person is charged with a crime after being arrested. This is a formal process during which you’ll be shown an indictment (the offense with which you are being charged) and the court officer will explain what law(s) you have violated. It is possible to be arrested and released without ever being charged. If this happens, you must still answer “yes” on the visa application question.
If you are never charged with a crime, you cannot be convicted.  If you are charged with a crime, but the charges were dropped, you cannot be convicted unless new charges are filed later.  If you are brought before a court and plead guilty or are found guilty, then you have been convicted.

If you ever find yourself charged with a crime, we recommend that you find two attorneys--one that specializes in immigration law and one that specializes in criminal law.  Without the guidance of the immigration attorney, a criminal attorney may not understand the legal impact of his or her advice on your visa status.  It is important to have the right kind of attorney to help you understand the court proceedings and what they mean for your individual situation.  

Visas are granted at the discretion of the individual visa officer. Any arrest or conviction can lead to a positive “alert” in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Consular officials query this system when processing visa requests, which could cause delays in issuing your visa. Depending on the severity of the crime, a conviction may make it difficult or impossible for you to get a visa to enter the U.S. For advice about your specific case, you will need to contact an immigration attorney.
Denison University is required by regulation to report, within 21 days, “any disciplinary action taken by the school against the student as a result of the student being convicted of a crime.” This reporting action by itself does not automatically result in a termination of status. However, the information will be available to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who will determine whether additional action is warranted. Additionally, if the disciplinary action is suspension or expulsion, this may result in a loss of status for not maintaining full-time enrollment.

An arrest or conviction that does not result in a disciplinary action by Denison may still be reported by law enforcement officials to ICE; in which case, ICE officials would have the same discretion to determine whether additional action is warranted.

Yes, they will most likely have access to this information through other sources. You must disclose your arrest/conviction when completing the DS-160 to apply for a visa. You should never give a false answer to this question on the visa application or in the visa interview. Providing false information on a visa application or during an interview could result in a finding of fraud. A finding of fraud could result in a permanent bar from entering the U.S.
You should assume that any application you file for an immigration benefit will involve a check for any arrest or criminal history; some USCIS applications may also directly ask questions about arrests or convictions. Extensive databases are maintained at the national level and are available to immigration authorities. Always be truthful and be prepared to provide documentation from the court showing the original charges and eventual outcome if necessary. Willful misrepresentation is grounds for denial. You should consult with an immigration attorney about any history of arrest or conviction that may be of concern.
Yes. It is possible that your current U.S. visa stamp could be canceled, especially if you have an "Operating a Vehicle Impaired" (OVI) (also called Driving Under the Influence) arrest or conviction for driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Please note, even if you aren't arrested, it is possible this information is available to the U.S. Consulate abroad and they may cancel your valid visa stamp currently on file. This could prevent you from re-entering the U.S. after traveling abroad and/or successfully applying for a new visa stamp in the future.
Possibly, but maybe not. Email or telephone communications could be used as soon as a few days after an arrest or conviction to inform non-immigrants that their visa has been canceled.
Typically, if your visa stamp itself has been canceled, but your status remains valid and unexpired, a visa cancellation does not disrupt your period of stay in the U.S. unless you leave the U.S. If you depart the U.S., you must reapply for a new visa stamp.

If you have drug or alcohol related arrests/convictions, you could be referred to a Panel Physician in your home country (or country of application) for evaluation during your visa interview. This physician will  make a determination on if you are an "abuser or addict" and/or if you present a danger to yourself or others. It is possible that you can be required to stay at home for a year or more seeking treatment in order to be considered for another visa stamp. 

You should only travel if you understand and are willing to risk not being able to return to the U.S. for an extended period of time.  You may also want to retain an immigration attorney with details specific to your case.

An OVI, also known as DUI, is operating a vehicle impaired by drugs or alcohol or a combination of them. Depending on where you are from, you may know OVI as a DUI (driving under the influence) or OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated), or just drunk driving. Any substance that causes impairment, including prescribed medication, can lead to an OVI arrest.

According to Ohio law, if you are over 21 and your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is 0,08 or greater, you are operating a vehicle impaired. If you are under 21, the legal limit is 0.02 BAC.

OVI is a serious offense with a mandatory minimum penalty of: three days in jail, or three days in a driver intervention program; a one year driver’s license suspension; a fine plus court costs; and six points on your driver’s license. 

Depending on the individual circumstances of your case and your history, you may be charged with different types of offenses, including a high test OVI and/or underage OVI, with varying criminal consequences including jail time, license suspension, vehicle restrictions, treatment, fines and cost.  

In addition to the criminal penalties, OVIs are expensive.  If convicted, you will pay $400-$500 for the driver intervention program, a $375 fine, around $125 in court costs, and $475 to reinstate your license. If you’ve worked with an attorney, you are also likely to have fees to pay to that individual.  Plus, your car insurance premiums will go up.

As an international student, you also face the likelihood that your visa will be canceled.

Providing, selling or buying alcohol for an individual under the age of 21 is illegal and you can be charged with furnishing to a minor. It does not matter whether you are aware the person is underage or not. The furnishing charge carries a mandatory minimum $500 fine.


Both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana are now legal in Ohio. However, there are strict rules for where it can be consumed, how much you can possess, and where it can be bought. Recreational marijuana is only legal for adults aged 21+.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Additionally, marijuana use, including medical marijuana, is prohibited on Denison’s campus. 

It is important to never leave the scene of an accident without providing your license and insurance information to the other driver. You must provide your information even if you hit an unoccupied vehicle. If you do not provide your information, you could be charged with a “hit, skip.”

There are a variety of charges that can be filed against you out of a traffic accident.  If police are called to the scene, you are required to provide your information, however you should not admit liability or otherwise indicate liability for the accident.

No. Regardless of the reason for why you were speeding, you can be found guilty of the offense. Being unaware of the speed limit, or following the flow of traffic is not a defense. Follow the instructions provided to you about paying the fine and/or appearing in traffic court.


Bring any documents required by your attorney.  As instructed, bring cash or credit/debit card to pay your fines and costs.  There is a 2.5% transaction fee when you use a card. For OVI charges, or other vehicle offenses, bring proof of insurance and valid license.  
Professional appearance is required. Dress as if you are going to a job interview. 
Be on time.  Be respectful of the court process and court personnel.  Do not chew gum.  Place electronic devices on silent and do not use them in the courtroom.  Do not talk in the courtroom unless asked to do so by your attorney or the court.

Special thanks to the Office of International Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (now IU-Indianapolis) and Student Legal Services at The Ohio State University for developing much of this content.