What Does Good Moral Character Mean in Naturalization?


Our Texas naturalization lawyers are often asked what “good moral character” means in citizenship applications.

This can be a gray area that’s open to interpretation. Generally, good moral character means the applicant has no serious criminal issues in his or her past and fulfills his or her legal obligations.

If you have committed crimes that are “aggravated felonies,” not only is your naturalization application going to fail but you will likely face deportation.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services paper

The crimes in question include murder, rape, child abuse, treason and drug trafficking. The law states that a person is not of good moral character if he or she was convicted of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990, even if the conviction was over five years prior to the citizenship application.

So-called crimes of “moral turpitude” can lead you to lose your green card and to fail the “good moral character” test for naturalization. They are defined here by Nolo

However, you don’t have to prove you have done good deeds to pass the “good moral character” test.

The USCIS Policy Manual defined “good moral character” as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”

In other words, you don’t have to be a saint; just average will satisfy the test.

There are some other crimes that also may question your moral character and scupper your naturalization application.

While a speeding ticket is unlikely to derail your application, gambling offenses, perjury, prostitution, and drug offenses on your record can thwart a finding of good moral character.

If you committed an aggravated felony, applying for citizenship is likely to be a waste of time. However, it can be difficult to make a decision about an applicant’s personal character when the misconduct occurred a long time in the past. You may be eligible for some immigration benefits like cancellation of removal.

Your naturalization application will have a better chance if you violated a traffic law or been convicted of a minor misdemeanor. If you have any concerns about your moral character in these applications, talk to your Texas citizenship attorney.

When Should You Show Good Moral Character in Naturalization Applications?

If you are a green card holder and you intend to apply for U.S. naturalization in the future, you must demonstrate good moral character during the whole period that you have been a lawful permanent resident. The five years before you apply for citizenship are particularly important.

The naturalization interviewer specifically evaluates the moral character of candidates who can be disqualified for criminal activity at this time.

You can be denied reentry to the United States if you travel abroad if an immigration officer discovers evidence of criminal activity.

Even when an applicant for naturalization has never been convicted of a felony, the immigration authorities may review his or her entire history before the five years before the application to determine whether the applicant is of good moral character.

You can read more about the citizenship process here. If you are applying for naturalization and fear there may be a question about your good moral character, talk to a Texas immigration attorney as soon as possible. Call us at  (512) 399-2311.

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