If you have ever been arrested, cautioned, warned, or issued with a penalty notice by the police, you may be wondering if this will affect your ability to travel or immigrate to another country. The answer to this question depends on several factors, such as the type and severity of the offence, the outcome and date of the caution, the country you are applying to, and the type and duration of the visa. In this article, we will explore how a police caution may affect your visa and citizenship applications to two popular destinations: the USA and China.

A police caution is a formal warning given by the police to a person who admits to committing a criminal offence. It is not technically a criminal conviction, but it carries many of the hallmarks of a conviction, and it is recorded on a person’s criminal record and can be disclosed to certain authorities and organisations. A police caution can have various consequences for the person’s future, especially if they want to travel or immigrate to another country.

Can you travel abroad with a Police Caution?

Different countries have different rules and regulations regarding the admission of foreign nationals who have a criminal record, including a police caution. Some countries may require the person to disclose any cautions they have received, regardless of the type or date of the offence. Some countries may only require the person to disclose cautions for certain offences, such as drugs or violence, or cautions that occurred within a certain period of time. Some countries may not require the person to disclose any cautions at all, unless they are specifically asked by the authorities.

Depending on the country and the type of visa or citizenship application, having a police caution may result in various outcomes, such as:

  • The person may be denied entry or refused a visa or citizenship on grounds of criminality or inadmissibility. This means that the person is considered unfit or undesirable to enter or stay in the country because of their criminal record.
  • The person may be granted entry or a visa or citizenship with conditions or restrictions. This means that the person is allowed to enter or stay in the country for a limited time or purpose, and may have to comply with certain rules or obligations, such as reporting to the authorities, paying a fee, or undergoing medical tests.
  • The person may be granted entry or a visa or citizenship without conditions or restrictions. This means that the person is allowed to enter or stay in the country without any limitations or requirements, and may enjoy the same rights and benefits as other visitors or residents.

The decision to grant or deny entry or a visa or citizenship to a person with a police caution is usually made by the immigration authorities of the country, based on their own laws and policies. However, the person may be able to influence this decision by providing evidence and explanations of their caution and demonstrating why they should be allowed to enter or stay in the country.

It is also possible to have a caution deleted in certain cases, so that an individual does not need to reveal their caution to immigration authorities. We have helped many clients over the years to have their cautions removed from the Police National Computer (PNC) so that an ACRO Police Certificate states “no trace”.

Will a Caution affect an ESTA?

The USA has strict rules regarding the admission of foreign nationals who have a criminal record. The US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which is required for visa-free travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), asks applicants to disclose any arrests or convictions related to “serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority” or any drug-related offences. Answering yes to these questions may result in the denial of an ESTA and the need to apply for a formal visa at the US embassy.

However, even if you answer no to these questions, you may still be denied entry or banned from the US if the US Customs officials find evidence of your criminal record on their databases, on your phone, social media, or in your luggage. Generally under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, people in America are protected from unreasonable search and seizure – but US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can search anyone within 100 miles of an American national line without a warrant, which covers a lot of people, potentially hundreds of millions. Recently this rule has been challenged, but for now if you are traveling to the US, you run the risk of having your phone searched. If evidence is found, such as messages discussing drug use, you will most likely be banned from travelling to the US for a minimum of ten years, and deported.

Does ESTA Check Police Records?

For ESTAs, US law requires that you declare any cautions if they are related to drugs or serious violence to property or people, as these are considered serious offences by the US authorities. However the US can not actually see onto the UK PNC, which is the register of where criminal records are kept, and so typically (although they can ask UK authorities if there is a suspicion) the US will not be able to see your criminal record, if you are travelling on an ESTA – this will not be the case if you need an ACRO Police Certificate, which will directly or indirectly reveal your caution.

If you have a caution and need to apply for a formal visa, such as a tourist, student, or work visa, or citizenship you will need to disclose it, regardless of the age of the caution or what the offence was – which will need to be verified via an ACRO Police Certificate. Depending on the nature and circumstances of your caution, you may be deemed ineligible for a visa on grounds of criminality or inadmissibility. However, you may be able to apply for a waiver of ineligibility if you can demonstrate that your caution was minor, isolated, or occurred a long time ago, and that you do not pose a threat to US security or public welfare.

Alternatively, if you do not want to go through complex, uncertain and often costly waiver proceedings, you can get your caution deleted. We have helped many clients have cautions and arrest records removed.

Can people with a criminal record go to China?

China also has strict rules regarding the admission of foreign nationals who have a criminal record. If you have a caution for any offence, you may be denied entry to China or refused a visa such as a tourist, student, or work visa. China does not have a clear definition of what constitutes a criminal record or how it affects visa eligibility, but it generally adopts a zero-tolerance policy towards any criminal history.

If you have a caution for a minor offence that is not considered serious or violent in China, such as traffic violations or public order offences, you may be able to enter China or obtain a visa. This also applies if you have only one caution for an offence that occurred a long time ago and did not result in any imprisonment or deportation.

There are very strict penalties for drug offences in China, including the death penalty. The Chinese authorities can undertake random drug testing on foreign nationals. If you test positive, you can be prosecuted regardless of where and when you consumed the drugs. If you do disclose a criminal record related to drugs on a Chinese visa application, China is very likely to refuse your application, regardless as to how old the caution is.

Travel to China and Police Cautions

If you have a caution that may affect your entry to China or your visa application, you may be able to overcome this barrier by providing evidence of your caution, providing it is minor, and explaining why it should not prevent you from travelling or staying in China. You will also need to show that you have no other criminal records and that you have good reasons and intentions to visit or live in China. You may also need to obtain a letter of no objection from your local Chinese embassy or consulate before travelling or applying for a visa.

Having a caution may affect your eligibility for citizenship in China if it shows that you are not of good moral quality, which is one of the requirements for naturalization. However, this will depend on the type and date of your caution.

To avoid the uncertainty involved in Chinese immigration procedures, you can get your police caution deleted from the PNC. We have had many cautions removed for clients who have needed to travel to or remain in China. We have successfully had their cautions removed so that their ACRO Police Certificate is completely clear, stating “no trace”.

Immigration and Police Cautions

Having a police caution can affect your visa and citizenship application, particularly if the caution is related to drugs or violence.

If you need professional help with deleting your police caution, arrest record, or applying for a visa or citizenship with a police caution, contact us today and let us help you achieve your goals.

We will provide you clear and honest advice on your prospects of success, during an initial fixed fee consultation. If we believe you have a chance of successfully having your record removed, all our fees are fixed, so you will know exactly how much you will need to pay in advance, with no surprises.

In addition to having extensive success in having records deleted from the PNC, we work alongside immigration attorneys, and in particular work with a network of specialist immigration lawyers based in the US.