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:
- 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
- Human trafficking
- Illegal gambling
- Habitual drunkard
- Not supporting dependents
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.