Naturalization is a way for lawful permanent residents to become United States citizens. One of the basic requirements for a naturalization applicant is that they have ‘good moral character’ (GMC) for the period of required continuous presence, which is usually either three or five years.

What is Good Moral Character?

Think about good moral as the absence of certain activities or behaviors. A list of prohibited ‘conduct’ is found at INA §101(f). If you have something from this ‘prohibited conduct’ list, during the requisite period, then the officer cannot find that you have good moral character. These are commonly referred to as ‘automatic bars’ to GMC.

If you one of the ‘automatic bars,’ then you should wait until you have the requisite 3 or 5 years of GMC, before you file your N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Next, even if you do not have an ‘automatic bar,’ the officer will review the totality of your history (typically, criminal convictions). After weighing all of the good and bad things in your past, the officer will decide if you have good moral character for the requisite period.

Automatic Bars to a Finding of Good Moral Character

Permanently Barred

You are permanently barred from a finding of GMC if you have ever been convicted of:

  • An aggravated felony on or after November 29, 1990.

Barred During Statutory Period

You will be found to lack GMC if during the statutory three or five year period you:

  • Were a habitual drunkard;
  • Lied to obtain an immigration benefit;
  • Spent more than 180 days in a penal institution;
  • Participated in Nazi persecutions, genocide, torture, or extrajudicial killings;
  • Engaged in prostitution or commercial vice;
  • Participated in ‘alien smuggling;’
  • Were a polygamist;
  • Were convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) (unless your CIMT falls under the petty offense exception, or you were under 18 when the crime was committed);
  • Were convicted of 2 or more offenses, for which the aggregate periods of incarceration were five years or more;
  • Were convicted for a violation of a controlled substance law (except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana);
  • Principally derived your income from gambling, or were convicted of two or more gambling offenses; or
  • You were a drug trafficker.

Many of the ‘automatic bars’ to good moral character are also grounds of deportability. If you believe that one of the grounds may apply to you, you must speak with a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney before filing for naturalization.

Other Things That Will Likely Preclude a Finding of Good Moral Character

  • Failure to Pay Federal Income Taxes: The officer will be looking for whether you filed your federal income tax returns for the 3 or 5 year GMC period. Failure to file may end in a determination that you lack GMC.
  • Failure to Register for the Selective Service: If you did not register with the selective service, and you were required to do so during the statutory period, you will be found to lack GMC.
  • False Claim to Citizenship: Voting or registering to vote in an election may preclude a finding of GMC (False claim to citizenship is also a ground of deportability).
  • Failure to Support Dependents: Willfully failing to support your minor children will result in an officer finding that you lack GMC.
  • Having Been on Probation, Parole, or Having a Suspended Sentence: Although not an automatic bar to GMC, an immigration officer will want your probation or parole to be completed satisfactorily before you can establish GMC.

If you would like information about naturalization, please contact an immigration attorney who is trustworthy and knowledgeable! Our attorneys at Landerholm Immigration, APC, are experienced in complex naturalization cases with good moral character issues. Please feel free to call us at (510) 491-0291 to see how we can help!