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Bieber's Legal Troubles Could Create Immigration Issues

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In what may have been a lack of foresight on his own -- or his lawyers' -- part, Justin Bieber is living in the U.S. on an O-1 visa, which grants him permission, as an "individual of extraordinary ability," to live and work in the country on a temporary basis. The pop idol's current legal troubles could potentially curtail his stay in the U.S. and even cause him problems should Bieber wish to live in the country on a more permanent basis. If Bieber had already gained U.S. citizenship through permanent residence and subsequent naturalization, the misdemeanors with which he's been charged in Florida -- DUI, drag racing and non-violent resistance of an officer -- could not be used to deport him if he is ultimately found guilty.

The fact that the 19-year-old singer is here on a temporary visa makes his legal position a little more tenuous.  According to Rita Sostrin, a Los Angeles-based immigration attorney, "Certain criminal offenses make a nonimmigrant visa holder inadmissible to the U.S. and could require a waiver of inadmissibility, which is a lengthy process."

While the misdemeanors may not render Bieber per se inadmissible, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials could argue that they constitute part of a pattern of behavior that would make the singer an unwelcome guest on U.S. soil. Thus far, no such allegations have been made.
The potentially bigger problem Bieber faces is the felony damage to property investigation in California.

In January, just days prior to his arrest in Florida, Bieber's house was searched in connection with an egging incident at a neighbor's home in Calabasas. The vandalism allegedly resulted in $20,000 of damage. Investigators were searching for evidence linking the 19-year-old singer to the incident. Compounding the teen idol's troubles, one of his entourage was arrested on narcotics charges during the search.

Because Bieber is not a U.S. citizen, a charge and conviction in the felony matter could cause him some real career problems. Depending on the outcome, Bieber could be found inadmissible and denied future personal appearances in what is, arguably, his biggest market. Attorney Sostrin cautions that "Some offenses are not eligible for waivers, so nonimmigrants, even those who hold O-1 visas as individuals of extraordinary ability, should exercise caution to stay in line with all applicable U.S. laws."

This is probably especially true for those who live their lives as publicly as Bieber. While there is a little doubt that a celebrity of his status will likely get a little more legal leeway than a visiting student, Bieber's celebrity also creates a lightning rod for criticism. For example, ABC news reports that a petition is circulating on calling for the singer's deportation.

Regardless of the outcome, Bieber's situation should serve as a cautionary tale to O-1 visa holders and their attorneys. Should individuals of extraordinary ability ultimately wish to gain  permanent residence, it's better to "seek the higher ground" -- as Sostrin puts it -- sooner rather than later.

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