Naturalization: Good moral character

The moral path: In order to qualify for a U.S. citizenship, the applicant must prove their good moral character. How does an applicant do this and what might affect your chances?

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires people applying for a U.S. citizenship to have lived in the USA for at least 3 months before applying to become a U.S. citizen. Children and students can apply for naturalization in the place where they go to school or where their family lives (if they depend on their parents for support).

Good moral character required

To be eligible for naturalization, you must be a person of good moral character. A person is not considered to be of "good moral character" if they commit certain crimes during the five years before they apply for naturalization or if they lie during their naturalization interview.

QUESTIONABLE BEHAVIOR

  • Drunk driving or being drunk most of the time.
  • Illegal gambling.
  • Prostitution.
  • Lying to gain immigration benefits.
  • Failing to pay court-ordered child support.
  • Committing terrorist acts.
  • Persecuting someone because of race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or social group.

If you commit some specific crimes, you can never become a U.S. citizen and will probably be removed from the country. These crimes are called "bars" to naturalization. Crimes called "aggravated felonies" (if committed on or after November 29, 1990), including: murder, rape, sexual abuse of a child, violent assault, treason, and illegal trafficking in drugs, firearms, or people are some examples of permanent bars to naturalization.

In most cases, immigrants who joined the military and were discharged from their service in the U.S. military early because of misconduct cannot apply. Also, immigrants who deserted or left their service early are permanently barred from getting a U.S. citizenship. You may also be denied citizenship if you behave in other ways that show you lack good moral character.

Other crimes are temporary bars to naturalization. Temporary bars usually prevent you from becoming a citizen for up to five years after you commit the crime. These include:

  • Any crime against a person with intent to harm.
  • Any crime against property or the government involving fraud.
  • Two or more crimes with combined sentences of five years or more.
  • Violating controlled substance laws (e.g., using or selling illegal drugs).
  • Spending 180 days or more during the past five years in jail or prison.

Report any crimes that you committed when you apply for naturalization. This includes crimes removed from your record or committed before your 18th birthday. If you do not tell USCIS about them, you may be denied citizenship and you could be prosecuted.

Back