Meeting the Good Moral Character Requirement for Naturalization

By Reuben Seguritan

A US permanent resident (green card holder) can become a US citizen by filing Form N400, Application for Naturalization with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). At the time of filing, the US permanent resident must have had permanent resident status for at least 5 years and must have lived for at least 3 months in the state where he will apply for naturalization. The US permanent resident status requirement is at least 3 years for those married to US citizens and who gained their status because of the marriage. The permanent residence status requirement is at least 1 year for certain applicants applying on the basis of qualifying US military service. These years (5 years, 3 years and 1 year) are known as the statutory period.

In applying for naturalization, an applicant is required to establish his good moral character during the application and processing period for naturalization, and until the day that he takes the Oath of Allegiance as a US citizen.

The USCIS has recently issued policy guidance regarding unlawful acts that may affect the good moral character requirement. The commission, or conviction or imprisonment for unlawful acts may render an applicant ineligible for naturalization. Two or more convictions for driving under the influence or post-sentencing charges to criminal sentencing may affect good moral character determinations.

Examples of the unlawful acts are: bail jumping; bank fraud; conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance; failure to file or pay taxes; forgery uttering; insurance fraud; obstruction of justice; sexual assault; Social Security fraud; unlawful harassment; unlawful registration to vote; unlawful voting; and violation of a US embargo.

In the Policy Manual, examples of certain acts that may bar the finding of good moral character are: one or more crimes involving moral turpitude; aggregate sentence of 5 years or more; controlled substance violation; incarceration for 180 days; false testimony under oath; prostitution offenses; smuggling of a person; polygamy; gambling offenses; habitual drunkard; two or more convictions for driving under the influence (DUI); failure to support dependents; adultery; and other unlawful acts that adversely affect good moral character.

Examples of crimes involving moral turpitude which would prevent the finding of good moral character are: aggravated battery; petty theft, grand theft, forgery, robbery; spousal or child abuse; any intentional sexual contact with a child; and offering a bribe to a government official and offenses relating to counterfeiting.

Other examples of acts which would prevent the finding of good moral character are: violation of any controlled substance-related federal or state law or regulation of the United States or law or regulation of any foreign country; conviction or admission that the applicant has been a trafficker in a controlled substance, or benefited financially from a spouse or parent’s trafficking; giving false testimony to obtain any immigration benefit; failure to disclose a criminal or other adverse record; applicant has engaged in prostitution; involving in the smuggling of a person or persons by encouraging, inducing, assisting, abetting or aiding any alien to enter or try to enter the United States in violation of law; and conviction for committing two or more gambling offenses.

The USCIS officers will assess the naturalization applications on a case-by-case basis and will determine whether an act committed during the statutory period and during the application period is one that adversely reflects on the moral character of the applicant. The officer may make a finding that an applicant did not have good moral character due to the commission of an unlawful act evidenced through admission, conviction, or other relevant, reliable evidence in the record.

They must also determine whether there are extenuating circumstances. An extenuating circumstance must pertain to the unlawful act and must precede or be contemporaneous with the commission of the unlawful act. Extenuating circumstances could excuse the act or make the act not reflective of the lack of good moral character of the applicant. An example is if the applicant failed to pay the support to his dependents, and the officer finds evidence that he lost his job, or he was in an accident or very sick which meant he had to pay for his medical bills. With these circumstances, the failure to pay support to the dependents would not be a ground to deny the application because of lack of good moral character.