New Jersey court statistics show that shoplifting arrests are up throughout the state. Many attribute this to the downturn in the economy. Irrespective, it is clear that our criminal defense law firm has seen a spike in retail theft charges. A significant portion of those arrested involves suspects who are not a citizen, for example, a green card holder or even visa holder (e.g. H1 or H4). A shoplifting conviction can be particularly troublesome for such a person.
When someone is admitted to the country on a temporary basis, it is typically achieved through an immigration visa. When the admission stems from sponsorship by an employer, it is termed a H1 visa. The dependents of someone holding a H1 visa are also admitted into the country under a H4 visa. Both H1 & H4 visas are temporary and must periodically be renewed or extended. A shoplifting conviction can, however, significantly complicate this effort.
There are various basis for Removal, also referred to as Deportation, or non-renewal of a visa by immigration authorities. A single conviction for shoplifting traditionally provided no issue as to Deportation, Removal or Non-Renewal but we are finding that this is not necessarily the situation for H1 & H4 visa holders these days. We recently had an individual held up by Homeland Security, Customs and/or INS, upon returning to New Jersey from oversees. The client had apparently pled guilty to shoplifting years prior and was now consulting us because their immigration status was in jeopardy because of the conviction. We were consulted for purposes of filing an application for Post-Conviction relief. The petition to vacate the shoplifting conviction is pending. The immigration status of our H4 client and her husband, a sponsored employee on a H1 visa, is at serious risk. It is unfortunate that cultural differences and a lack of knowledge concerning the NJ legal system often motivate immigrants to simply plead guilty and/or hire the cheapest lawyer they can find. Such a decision can have potentially disastrous consequences. I am hoping we can overcome the poor decision of our client in this case and avoid Deportation.