Good Moral Character for Naturalization


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The USCIS policy manual for adjudicators defines Good Moral Character as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.” Simply put, it means proving that you are an upstanding member of society. Practically speaking, demonstrating good moral character is not always so simple, even if you are a good person. There are many automatic bars found in the Immigration and Nationality Act that can disqualify an individual from demonstrating good moral character.

It is important that all applicants fill out their applications for naturalization completely and truthfully. Providing false or misleading information or failing to provide requested information can be viewed as actions which prevent a finding of good moral character. Such finding can result in the USCIS denying a naturalization application. Applicants are required to provide full and complete information pertaining to any criminal convictions, including those that may have been sealed or expunged from their records or occurred while they were minors. The USCIS conducts extensive background and criminal checks on all naturalization applicants and is likely to discover anything an applicant failed to report.

You will not be able to establish that you are a person of good moral character if you have been convicted of murder, at any time, or of any other aggravated felony, if you were convicted on or after November 29, 1990. Other less serious criminal offenses may only be temporary bars to naturalization. Temporary bars prevent an applicant from qualifying for citizenship for a certain period of time (usually 5 years) after the commission of the offense.

The following are examples of behaviors that might demonstrate a lack of good moral character:

  • Any crime against property or the Government that involves “fraud” or evil intent.
  • Any crime against a person with intent to harm.
  • Two or more crimes for which the aggregate sentence was 5 years or more.
  • Violating any controlled substance law of the United States, any State, or any foreign country.
  • Habitual drunkenness.
  • Illegal gambling.
  • Prostitution.
  • Polygamy (marriage to more than one person at the same time).
  • Lying to gain immigration benefits.
  • Failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony payments.
  • Confinement in jail, prison, or similar institution for which the total confinement was 180 days or more during the past 5 years (or 3 years if you are applying based on your marriage to a United States citizen).
  • Failing to complete any probation, parole, or suspended sentence before you apply for naturalization.
  • Terrorist acts.
  • Persecution of anyone because of race, religion, national origin, political, opinion, or social group.

Good Moral Character after the Interview and before the Ceremony

Be aware that the permanent resident is not out of the woods completely if the adjudicator has approved his or her application at the interview. You are not a Naturalized Citizen until AFTER you have been sworn in at a ceremony. Any act that demonstrates a lack of GMC during the period between the interview and the ceremony may result in the revocation of the adjudicator’s decision and your naturalization may be denied.

Good moral character is very fact and case specific. In order to establish good moral character, it is important you consult with an immigration lawyer experienced in naturalization. 


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