What Is the Good Moral Character Naturalization Requirement?

The good moral character naturalization provision allows the United States government to conclude whether a green card holder would be a good fit for U.S. citizenship. To verify good moral character, you need to confirm that you are continuing to be a law-abiding individual free of significant offense arrests. 

However, if you committed certain crimes, good moral character can be challenging to determine. And because your background could prevent you from getting your U.S. citizenship, it might be wise to speak with an immigration lawyer if you have a criminal history.

letters on wooden blocks spell moral
Letters on wooden blocks spell “moral.” Possessing good moral character is one requirement the U.S. government uses to determine if you will be suitable for naturalization.

Crimes That Permanently Bar an Applicant from Showing Good Moral Character

Certain very serious or violent crimes will permanently prevent an applicant from ever showing good moral character. According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, these crimes include murder and offenses known as “aggravated felonies.” 

Aggravated felonies include selling drugs or weapons, injuring another person, and certain severe forms of theft such as burglary and fraud. 

Because of the serious nature of these crimes, a person who has been found guilty of an aggravated felony shows a lack of good moral character and can never become a U.S. citizen. Additionally, two or more crimes of moral turpitude can also prevent an individual from achieving naturalization, even if one offense was expunged.

What Are Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude?

A crime of moral turpitude (CMT) has been defined as a crime done with an evil purpose or recklessly. It is an inherently base, depraved, or vile act that goes against morality and responsibilities owed to society in general or between individual people.

Its definition is often subjective and challenging to clarify, which is why it is often left to lawmakers and, ultimately, U.S. courts to decide. Thus, for example, an offense can be considered a CMT no matter if the courts view it as a misdemeanor or a felony despite its imposed sentence. 

Unfortunately, not knowing what defines CMT can cause difficulties for immigrants or non-citizens, particularly those who have had disputes with law enforcement. 

A CMT Can Block Naturalization

If a citizenship applicant has a CMT on their record or even just admits to the crime in some cases, the government can block a green card holder from demonstrating the “good moral character” needed to achieve naturalization.

A crime of moral turpitude is a catch-all description and can be applied to nearly any offense if the judge or immigration official decides it’s appropriate. For instance, if it sounds mean, nasty, and morally wrong, it will likely be deemed a CMT.

Immigrant Cases the Courts Labeled Crimes of Moral Turpitude

Whether a crime is one of moral turpitude can also depend on the person’s criminal history and the state’s laws in which they lived when they committed the offense. 

This is because most convictions for criminal acts are based on statutory law; therefore, their definitions will be longer and more intricate. Statutory language can impact whether a specific crime is determined to be a CMT. The U.S. courts and the government have specified the following offenses to be CMTs in some immigrant cases:

  • Aggravated assault
  • Animal fighting
  • Child abuse
  • Acting as an accessory to a CMT offense
  • In some cases, involuntary manslaughter
  • Kidnapping
  • Mayhem
  • Murder
  • Rape and incest
  • Robbery
  • Spousal abuse
  • Theft
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Making false statements
  • Tax fraud

To know for sure if an offense may be considered a CMT, discuss your case with an attorney familiar with the immigration legal code and your local criminal laws. Because crimes of moral turpitude laws are developing continually, a lawyer will be able to review your application and give you a complete case analysis. 

When Has Enough Time Passed to Show Good Moral Character?

Applicants who committed a non-aggravated felony long enough ago (usually at least five years before they apply for naturalization) might still have the chance to show good moral character. 

For example, if an applicant files for naturalization in 2022 and hasn’t committed a moral turpitude crime since 2017, they might be able to demonstrate good moral character. 

Crimes That May Not Affect Moral Character Requirements

Other types of crimes still allow a person to show good moral character so long as they didn’t commit those crimes within a certain period of time. These crimes include:

  • Two or more offenses that led to a jail term of five years or more
  • A crime that led to a jail term of more than 180 days
  • Lying to get an immigration benefit
  • Being married to more than one person at the same time
  • Two or more gambling crimes
  • Failing to provide child support
  • Having an extramarital affair (cheating on a spouse)

Conditional Bars to the Good Moral Requirement

These crimes and behaviors only stop applicants from showing good moral character if they committed them within five years of filing their naturalization application. For this reason, they are called “conditional bars to the good moral requirement.” 

Please note that this period is not always five years. For husbands or wives of U.S. citizens, for example, the period might be only three years. For service members or veterans, the required period might be only one year. 

However, please note that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can also check a person’s history before this one-to-five-year period.

FileRight.com Can Ensure You Have the Right Documents to Prove Good Moral Character

To help the USCIS determine whether you possess good moral character, you must provide tax and criminal records. FileRight.com can assist you in locating the correct documents, so you don’t have to apply more than once. 

Visit our site to complete a U.S. Citizenship Application Form N-400 using our “do-it-yourself” software and take advantage of our immigration lawyer review services. We guarantee an error-free application, or we’ll refund your money. 

So get started today by completing our U.S. citizenship qualification quiz and checking out our other immigration solutions.

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