How do laws apply to foreign nationals when they are in the United States? Perhaps an odder question, what happens to foreign students studying in the United States should they be charged with a crime? The short answer is that they will face the same punishment as United States citizens, and possibly more. However, the application of this concept goes a little further. When a foreign student is charged with a crime, it can typically be divided into two scenarios; the crime is either a minor offense—to which they will go through the same procedure as an American citizen, or the crime is of a much more serious offense—to which they will be classified as ‘deportable’.
Should a foreign student be charged with a crime of lesser degree, such as petty shoplifting or minor drug charges, they will encounter the same process as an American. However, this can hold much graver consequences. For example, if an international student were to be caught in possession of drugs, they might be expelled from their institution. If that were the case, their expulsion would violate and void their student visa—where they would (most likely) be forced to leave the country. Furthermore, when an international student is charged with a crime, they are required to stay in country until their case is resolved. For example, a student at a D.C. university was caught with a ‘Fake I.D.’ at a bar in Adams Morgan. She ended up being required to stay in country through winter break, as she had her court dates scheduled afterwards. Even though she ended up receiving the generous verdict of community service, this occurrence ended up costing her a hefty payment for additional housing, wasted air fares and additional court and lawyer fees. However, if her university had chosen to expel her, her student visa would have been void. Obviously, she would have had no choice but to leave the country.
Although these consequences seem pretty severe, they go further as the degree of the crime increases. If an international student commits a ‘Crime of Moral Turpitude’, such as voluntary manslaughter or aggravated assault, they are automatically deportable. This case does not involve the university standings with the student—by their crime alone, they should expect to be deported. Further, if an international student commits just two (or more) misdemeanors they are deportable under the “Multiple Criminal Convictions” act.
Alas, there is still some good news; international students are equally subject to the fifth amendment. In vernacular, a foreign student being charged with a crime as the right to remain silent, the same way an American student would retain those rights. It is particularly recommended that any foreign student being charged with a crime requests a lawyer, and states nothing else. This idea, while applying to just about anybody being charged with a crime, specifically pertains to the idea of an international students. Since the consequences for a foreign student facing charges are exacerbated by their visa status, the language an officer or official might use could become more confusing than normal. The main ‘take-away’ a student ought to consider from this article should be two-fold; be extra vigilant about your actions and how they will pertain to the law of the United States, and if you should find yourself in this situation, request a lawyer with the training required to navigate you through this confusing process.