Good Moral Character in the Immigration Context

Sep 21, 2016 | Crime of Moral Turpitude

As a Miami immigration lawyer, I always remind my clients that every time that you apply for an immigration benefit, the government will consider your moral character.

In some cases, you are required to show “good moral character” as an explicit part of the application. Below are some frequently asked questions.

How do the U.S. immigration authorities define “good moral character”?
The immigration statute defines “good moral character” in the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 101(f), 8 U.S.C. 1101(f). Under the statute, if you commit certain acts or hold a certain status within the statutory period, you may be found to automatically lack good moral character regardless of the underlying circumstances of the event, including:

  • being deportable for certain offenses (including prostitution, polygamy, controlled substance offenses, crimes involving moral turpitude, and drug trafficking)
  • giving false testimony to obtain an immigration benefit
  • being confined in a penal institution for a total of 180 days or more, and
  • being convicted of an aggravated felony at any time.

If you have any questions in regard to this, you should contact a Miami immigration lawyer.

How does good moral character influence discretionary decisions by immigration officers?
Good moral character is almost always considered in the form of other qualifications for the benefit or may be considered in an officer’s discretion.

You must, for example prove to the immigration authorities that you have not committed certain acts, like certain crimes, fraud, or immigration violations, which constitute grounds to bar you from admission to the United States. These grounds of inadmissibility are thus used to effectively assess your good moral character.

In addition, when considering visa applications, the government may deny you admission as a discretionary matter, even if you are not inadmissible for one of those disqualifying acts, if the officer thinks you have otherwise shown bad moral character. For example, driving under the influence (DUI) offenses generally do not make you automatically ineligible for immigration benefits. However, immigration authorities still take DUI offenses very seriously and may use a record of DUI offenses (especially recent or multiple offenses) to deny benefits in the exercise of discretion.

If you have any questions in regard to this, you should speak with a Miami immigration lawyer.

What happens if my immigration application is denied for lack of “good moral character?”
If you are denied the benefit as a matter of discretion — that is, because the officer simply questions your good moral character based on negative factors in your background — you may need to appeal the negative discretionary decision. If you have any questions in regard to this, you should speak with a Miami immigration lawyer.

What can I do address any unforeseen issues relating to good moral character?
Before you apply for a visa, green card, or other immigration benefit, it would be helpful to know whether the benefit has an explicit or implicit good moral character requirement and what acts might disqualify you from the benefit. You should also be prepared to address any negative issues in your case, even if they do not automatically bar you from the eligibility for the benefit.  It is better to present a strong application affirmatively than try to reverse a negative decision against you. Again, if you have any questions in regard to this, you should speak with a Miami immigration attorney.

If you would like more information on the issue of good moral character in an immigration context, please contact Miami immigration lawyer The Law Office of Tatiane M. Silva, P.A., Esq. at (305) 895-2500 or visit our website at tmsilvalaw.com.