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How USCIS Defines Good Moral Character

Whenever you fill out your Application for Naturalization (Form N-400), as part of the process, USCIS will conduct a thorough review of your immigration history and check into your background. One of the things they look for is whether you are a person of “good moral character” (GMC). Now, it would be tough to define good moral character in most circumstances. This is because one person’s view of what constitutes good character may be different from another person’s view. Fortunately, USCIS has set out clear guidelines for actions that bar you from meeting the GMC requirement for naturalization. Understanding these guidelines can help you ensure that you meet this requirement when the time comes.



Statutory Period

The first thing we need to discuss is what is known as the statutory period. This period begins five years before the date you apply for citizenship and lasts all the way up to the day you take the Oath of Allegiance. This period is relevant to what is known as the “conditional bars to good moral character.” If you committed any of the acts that constitute a conditional bar during this statutory period, you’d fail to meet the GMC standard. Therefore, your Application for Naturalization may be denied.

Keep in mind that there are also acts that the USCIS considers so egregious that they will bar you from passing the GMC standard even if the act occurred outside of the statutory period. Those are called “permanent bars to good moral character,” and we’ll discuss them later in this article.




Conditional Bars to the Good Moral Character Standard

According to USCIS, the following specific convictions, circumstances, acts, and offenses will keep you from meeting the GMC standard if performed during the statutory period:

  • Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMTs), other than a political or petty offense;

  • Conviction of two more offenses that result in incarceration for a combined sentence of five years or more;

  • Violation of any controlled substances law except for simple marijuana possession of 30g or less;

  • Incarceration for a total period of 180 days or more;

  • If you have given false testimony under oath for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits;

  • Engaging in, procuring, or receiving proceeds from prostitution;

  • Smuggling a person into the United States in violation of the law;

  • Practicing polygamy;

  • Deriving income from illegal gambling or being convicted of two or more gambling offenses;

  • Being a habitual drunkard;

  • Two or more convictions of driving under the influence;

  • Willfully failing or refusing to support dependents, unless you can establish extenuating circumstances;

  • Committing adultery, unless you can establish extenuating circumstances; and

  • Other unlawful acts that show a lack of good moral character.

As you can see, there are many ways the USCIS can find that you don’t possess good moral character. So during the five years before submitting your Application for Naturalization, it’s essential to live in a way that clearly demonstrates good moral character as defined by USCIS.


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