If you have been researching immigration laws, you might have come across the terms “good moral character”. Many avenues of applying for citizenship require that the applicant be of good moral character. In fact, the naturalization process requires this of all applicants. The concept of good character is ambiguous and confusing for many people who are hoping to become U.S. citizens. At the Law Offices of Phillip Kim, we have had many clients approach us with questions about their moral character and whether it will prevent them from becoming citizens. We’ve written this article to clear the air on what it means to have good moral character.
First and foremost, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will look at your criminal record. Certain crimes will result in barring you from becoming a U.S. citizen. These crimes include murder and aggravated felonies. Other less serious offenses might result in a short-term ban. During this time, the applicant will not be eligible for citizenship. Form N-400 is the form used to apply for U.S. citizenship. The form asks many questions about your criminal background. We urge you to respond truthfully and do not omit any criminal charges that were filed against you, even if they are no longer on record or expunged. If USCIS finds out about an issue from your past, you can be denied. Even minor events should be reported.
If you fall into the category of those who have a criminal record, you will need to send a copy of all documents pertaining to your case. For most, these documents include arrest warrants, reports, and court documents. You may also want to consider sending statements or examples of evidence that show your side of the story.
Some clients worry about traffic violations. You do not need to send documents for a traffic incident unless alcohol or drugs were involved. If a traffic violation resulted in an arrest, you will not need to send documents if the penalty involved points on your driver’s license or you were only forced to pay a fine less than $500.
An important note to keep in mind is that some serious crimes come with equally serious consequences. You can be removed (deported) for those crimes. In these cases, USCIS suggests that you seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.
While your criminal record is the primary tool used to determine whether or not you have good moral character, another factor will also jeopardize your plan of becoming a U.S. citizen: lying during interviews. Even if you get away with lying during an interview, if USCIS finds out that you lied later on, your citizenship can be taken away.
In addition, certain specific acts may classify you as someone who does not have good moral character. These include but are not limited to:
- Failure to pay child support
- Illegal activities such as prostitution or polygamy
- Crimes that involve fraud
- Crimes against the government
- Being in jail or another institution for 180 days or more during the past 5 years (3 years if you are applying through marriage with a U.S. citizen)
For more information about good moral character, contact Attorney Phillip Kim.