Getting arrested can be scary enough for anyone, but there's an extra element of fear involved if you happen to be an immigrant in the U.S. In addition, the laws surrounding one particular crime—driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol—have become increasingly stiff over the years. If you're in the U.S. on a visa, this is what you should know about a DUI.
Your visa will be revoked once you are charged.
Previously, a DUI charge wouldn't be addressed until it came time to have your visa renewed. Hopefully, by that point, the issue would be resolved and you'd either have been found innocent or been able to satisfactorily resolve the issue with the courts somehow. If you were put on probation, ordered to counseling, or given community service, you'd probably have a chance to show your compliance with the court and your ability to stay out of trouble since—all of which could help you win a visa renewal in spite of the conviction.
The new rules handed down by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), effective 2016, require local law enforcement to notify immigration immediately after your arrest and your visa is automatically revoked. It doesn't matter if you have been convicted or not.
You could lose your job or student status as a result.
Officially, you don't have to leave the country immediately due to the revocation of your visa. However, the DOS will, as a matter of course, notify your employer (if you are working) or your school (if you are here as a student). The notice that your visa has been revoked could easily cause your employer to terminate your employment or school to refuse to allow you to continue your studies.
If you do leave the U.S, you won't be permitted to return.
There may be a significant period of time between your arrest and any trial and your attorney may be hopeful that you can avoid conviction altogether. However, during this time, if you leave the U.S. for any reason—for example, a visit to an ailing relative or your sister's wedding—you will probably be denied re-entry to the U.S.
At that point, in order to re-enter the U.S., you'll have to apply for a new visa and disclose the arrest on the application. Since the issue is unresolved, you won't have a chance to present any factors that could mitigate the effect of the arrest (like the successful completion of counseling or community service). If the DOS determines that you have a drug or alcohol problem, that can trigger your inadmissibility on medical grounds alone.
You need attorney representation to help you handle the issue.
Because of how serious the effects of just an arrest can be to your immigration status, don't delay—find a criminal defense attorney to help you with the DUI immediately and contact an immigration attorney for help with your immigration status. Keep in mind that these are two different areas of immigration and criminal law, so it is usually best to hire a different attorney for each issue, even though one issue affects the other.