To become a U.S. citizen through naturalization, you must show that you are a person with “good moral character.” Immigration law does not tell us exactly what good moral character is, only what crimes and other behaviors a person can commit to show that they don’t have good moral character. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a person has to meet the standards of their community to show good moral character.
What Is Good Moral Character?
In general, a person shows good moral character by not committing certain offensive acts or crimes. A person doesn’t necessarily have to be convicted or found guilty for the USCIS to decide that they don’t have good moral character. The government considers both crimes or behaviors committed inside and out of the U.S. when it decides whether a person has good moral character.
When You Can’t Show Good Moral Character
Most of the crimes that stop a person from showing good moral character have to result in a conviction. However, a criminal conviction is not always necessary to show that a person doesn’t have good moral character.
According to the USCIS, people who have been found guilty of very serious or violent crimes will never be able to show good moral character. These crimes, called “aggravated felonies,” include selling drugs or weapons, serious incidents of domestic abuse or injuring another person and certain serious forms of theft such as burglary and fraud. Click here for examples of behaviors and activities that will not prove good moral character.
People who have ever been convicted of any violent, drug or theft crimes should speak with an immigration lawyer to see whether they can still become a U.S. citizen. A lawyer might be able to prove to the government that the applicant still has good moral character if the crimes were minor.
For How Long Do I Have to Show Good Moral Character?
In addition to showing that you have never been found guilty of any aggravated felonies, you must have shown good moral character for three to five years before you file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. After you file, you must continue to show good moral character until you are naturalized.
The USCIS might look at your family ties and background, criminal history, education, employment history, whether you’ve paid your taxes, whether you’ve lied to an immigration officer and other things.
You must show that during those five (or three) years before you file Form N-400, you were never found guilty of the following crimes:
- Crimes against other people’s property. This includes crimes of burglary, fraud and theft.
- Crimes against the government. This includes lying under oath in order to receive immigration benefits.
- Crimes against other people. This includes abusing your husband or wife or child or seriously injuring another person.
- Gambling. People who have been found guilty of two or more gambling offenses cannot show good moral character.
However, please note that the USCIS can also review your history before those three to five years.
You also cannot show good moral character if you were in jail for 180 days or more during the five (or three) years before you file. (This doesn’t count if you were in prison in another country for political reasons.) And you can’t show good moral character if you were found guilty of two or more of these crimes during those five (or three) years and were sentenced to five years or more in prison.
Other Factors that Affect Good Moral Character
There are other factors that can affect whether you have good moral character. These factors will not automatically disqualify you from showing good moral character, but government officials will review them to decide whether you have good moral character. Some of these factors include:
- Your job
- Whether you entered the country illegally
- Whether you paid your taxes
- Whether you provided financial support for your children
- Whether you had a long absence from the U.S.
- Whether you got your green card through a fake marriage. If the government suspects this, it will not only likely deny your application for naturalization, it might try to deport you from the U.S.