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Immigration Corner | Will an ex-con be allowed to go on a work programme?

Published:Tuesday | March 21, 2023 | 12:11 AM
Dahlia Walker-Huntington
Dahlia Walker-Huntington

Dear Walker-Huntington,

I have a concern that I would appreciate some advice from you about.

I was working on a vessel on the high seas in 2015. Coast Guards came aboard one day and found some marijuana hidden in a compartment on the vessel, that some of the crew members knew nothing about. However, we were arrested and taken to Puerto Rico, where we were prosecuted, then taken to the mainland United States to serve time in prison. I was deported in 2018.

I am now in Jamaica and I want to go on a work programme to the US, but I am not sure if I can go on any programme.

I would like some advice from you about what to do, as my life seems like it has come to an end.


Dear OM,

First of all, you are writing to me so you are very much alive and breathing. Not being able to obtain a visa to America is not the end of your life. Having said that and being fully aware of the opportunities available in America that may not be available elsewhere, let us see how we can analyse your situation with the facts presented.

I assume that you must have had legal representation for your criminal case with the marijuana, who would have determined if the United States had jurisdiction to arrest, charge and sentence you and your other crewmates in the matter. You did not indicate the quantity of ganja found on the ship and what charges were laid against you and your crewmates.

A drug charge and conviction make a person inadmissible to America. However, if it was a simple possession of ganja (under 30 grams), a person is eligible for a waiver of that inadmissibility. But a charge for possession of more than 30 grams, or trafficking, possession with intent, etc – any charge that denotes dealing in ganja is deemed a serious drug offence, and there is no waiver for that level of drug involvement. This means that someone with those charges would be permanently ineligible to be admitted to the United States – whether as a non-immigrant or as an immigrant for permanent residence.

A work programme visa is a non-immigrant visa, and a drug conviction would make you ineligible to receive this visa. One does not have to be convicted of a drug charge to be inadmissible to the United States. There is a concept in immigration law known as ‘Reason To Believe’ that forbids entry if the US government has reason to believe that you are involved with, or have benefited from, drug trafficking. If there is a strong, legitimate argument that there is no reason to believe that a person is involved with, or has benefited from, dealing in drugs, the US government will entertain that and can reverse their initial findings.

While your legal avenues to getting to America may be closed, I urge you not to seek out any illegal means to get to the States. Analyse your situation and see how you can proceed to overcome your criminal history and inadmissibility to the US. Depending on what type of work you are trained to do or can be trained to do, other Caribbean countries may present employment opportunities if none can be found in Jamaica.

Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington, Esq is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal and international law in Florida. She is a diversity and inclusion consultant, mediator, and former special magistrate and hearing officer in Broward County, Florida.