What is the “Good Moral Character” Needed for Naturalization?

One of the steps to naturalization is a background check to see if you have “good moral character”. After you file your Application for Naturalization (Form N-400), the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) looks closely at your background and immigration history.

What does “good moral character” mean?

You must show good moral character for the 5 years right before your application and up to when you take the Oath of Allegiance. (If you’re married to a US citizen, it’s 3 years.) But some behavior before those 5 years also affects your good moral character.

Some crimes are permanent bars to naturalization

People convicted of these crimes can never get US citizenship:

  • Murder
  • Aggravated felony
  • Persecution, genocide, torture, severe violations of religious freedom

Aggravate felonies include rape, drug trafficking, sexual abuse of a child, and more. However, immigration law has its own definitions of crimes, so you should talk to an immigration lawyer.

Some crimes are temporary bars to naturalization

In immigration law, a lot of behaviors can be “conditional” (ie: temporary) bars to naturalization. They must happen in the 5-year period up to the Oath of Allegiance. They include:

  • Moral turpitude (fraud, theft, assault, etc.)
  • Convicted for a total of 5+ years
  • Illegal drugs
  • 180+ days in jail or prison
  • False testimony
  • Prostitution
  • Human trafficking
  • Polygamy
  • Illegal gambling
  • Habitual drunkard
  • Not supporting dependents
  • Adultery

It is best to talk to an immigration attorney because minor offenses can be more serious when applying for citizenship.

Some non-criminal behavior affects good moral character

Something doesn’t need to be a crime to affect your good moral character. Such as:

  • Not paying child support
  • Not paying taxes
  • Not signing up for Selective Service

Whatever the offense, talk to an immigration lawyer about your application for naturalization.


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