Good moral character is one of the requirements for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. Once you file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, USCIS will conduct a thorough review of your background and immigration history. An applicant for naturalization must show that he/she has been and continues to be a person of good moral character.
Generally, you must show good moral character during the 5-year period immediately preceding your application for naturalization and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance. This period is reduced to 3 years if applying on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen.
But certain conduct prior to the 5-year period may affect the good moral character requirement as well. Certain crimes can be permanent obstacles to naturalizing as a U.S. citizen. They include: murder, aggravated felony, persecution, genocide, torture, or severe violations of religious freedom. If you were involved in a crime, it’s always best to speak to an immigration lawyer before making assumptions.
Immigration law also has established bars to good moral character that are conditional (not permanent). These bars are triggered by specific acts, offenses, activities, circumstances, or convictions within the statutory period for naturalization, including the period prior to filing and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance.
Conditional bars can prevent an applicant from meeting the N-400 good moral character requirement. According to the USCIS policy manual, conditional bars include:
- Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
Conviction or admission of one or more CIMTs (other than political offense), except for one petty offense.
- Aggregate Sentence of 5 Years or More
Conviction of 2 or more offenses with combined sentence of 5 years or more (other than political offense).
- Controlled Substance Violation
Violation of any law on controlled substances, except for simple possession of 30g or less of marijuana.
- Incarceration for 180 Days
Incarceration for a total period of 180 days or more, except political offense and ensuing confinement abroad.
- False Testimony under Oath
False testimony for the purpose of obtaining any immigration benefit.
- Prostitution Offenses
Engaged in prostitution, attempted or procured to import prostitution, or received proceeds from prostitution.
- Smuggling of a Person
Involved in smuggling of a person to enter or try to enter the United States.
Practiced or is practicing polygamy (having more than one spouse at the same time).
- Gambling Offenses
Two or more gambling offenses or derives income principally from illegal gambling activities.
- Habitual Drunkard
Is or was a habitual drunkard.
- Failure to Support Dependents
Willful failure or refusal to support dependents, unless extenuating circumstances are established.
Extramarital affair tending to destroy existing marriage, unless extenuating circumstances are established.
- Unlawful Acts
Unlawful act that adversely reflect upon GMC, unless extenuating circumstances are established.
Even minor offenses can sometimes be more serious in an immigration context. So if any of the categories described above may affect you, speak to an immigration attorney.