What does good moral character mean?
Congratulations on working toward becoming a citizen of the United States! In addition to meeting residency requirements as a legal permanent resident and other elements of the Form N-400 Application for Naturalization, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services must deem you a person of “good moral character” (or GMC) to be granted citizenship. According to the USCIS Policy Manual, good moral character means that a person’s conduct “measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.” The goal is to assure that only law-abiding, productive members of society receive the benefits and responsibilities of U.S. citizens.
Rather than sit down to dinner with you to discuss your moral convictions, the USCIS has its own system, which mostly defined in the negative (like proving that you haven’t committed crimes and don’t lie). Your good moral character is based on USCIS officers’ assessment of your personal legal record, your application for naturalization and your oral interview, according to laws that Congress has passed. This article answers some key questions about how GMC is determined.
What time period is good moral character based on?
5 years (or 3 years if you are applying under the special rules as a spouse of a U.S. citizen) immediately before filing for citizenship. This is the “statutory period.” It is the same as the number of years as you were required to live as a legal permanent resident with a green card before filing for citizenship. This is the time period that the USICS will thoroughly examine any immoral conduct that could threaten your citizenship application. However, the USICS has the freedom to examine activities during your entire life. The time between filing for naturalization until your oath of citizenship can also affect eligibility.
What doesn’t help to prove good moral character?
Past crimes and other negative activities can set up “bars” to your naturalization process. These bars can delay or permanently block naturalization, depending on the seriousness of the crime. Many of these have to do with “crimes of moral turpitude,” or crimes that demonstrate a lack of moral character. Some more serious ones are also grounds for deportation. Here are several to be aware of:
- Any crime against a person with intent to harm
- Fraudulent green card activity or false testimony for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit
- Violation of controlled substance (drug) laws
- Habitual drunkenness
- Gambling offenses
- Shoplifting or theft
- Failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony payments,
- Failing to complete any probation, parole, or suspended sentence before applying for naturalization.
- Smuggling aliens into the U.S.
- Not registering with the U.S. Selected Service System while between the ages of 18 and 25 if you are male.
- Two or more of any crimes for which 5 or more years were spent in jail
- Jail time of 180 days or more during the past 5 years
People who have been convicted of murder at any time cannot become U.S. citizens. The same goes for those convicted of another aggravated felony (including drug trafficking and armed bank robbery, as well as lesser crimes like bribery or counterfeiting) after November 29, 1990. These are permanent bars.
What does help to prove good moral character?
- Honesty. Tell the truth in your answers on the N-400 application and when asked any questions by USCIS personal, especially regarding your history with law enforcement. Be thorough in reporting even incidents like a simple traffic ticket. Failure to tell the truth can become a much more serious concern than the violation itself. Lying shows a lack of moral character.
- This is optional, but it may be useful to provide letters from people such as neighbors, church or other religious leaders, and employers who can vouch for your good moral character. Letters should positive examples of how you live your life and contribute to U.S. society.
Concerned about your GMC?
- Remember that you don’t need to be a saint to be considered “of good moral character.” Your moral character and personal standards likely exceed the necessary qualifications. If you don’t have criminal convictions, and are generally a law-abiding member of your neighborhood, it shouldn’t be too difficult to show good moral character. Just be sure to honest in all of your descriptions.
- If a minor crime or activity that may show a lack of good moral character applies to you, you may consider waiting until the statutory 5 years have gone by with a “clean” record before applying. You should also be prepared to prove solid employment and family and community involvement within those 5 years to show reformed character and conduct.
- Seek additional help from legal experts or attorneys before submitting your application for naturalization if you have more concerns.