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Good Moral Character & USCIS Expanded Guidance

Good Moral Character & USCIS Expanded Guidance

For an individual to be granted naturalization, cancellation of removal, T-visa adjustment, or VAWA, they must demonstrate ‘good moral character’ for the statutory period.

For naturalization, the statutory period is typically five years, three years for spouses of United States citizens, and one year for certain members of the military.

There are permanent and conditional bars to good moral character (GMC), and on December 13, 2019, USCIS updated its Policy Manual to provide expanded guidance on the conditional bars.

Permanent Bars to Good Moral Character

There are several permanent bars to GMC. If one of these pertains to you, a USCIS officer can never find that you have good moral character. Permanent bars include a conviction for murder, a conviction of an aggravated felony, or participation in Nazi persecutions, genocide, torture, or extrajudicial killings.

Conditional Bars to Good Moral Character

On December 13, 2019, in a USCIS policy memo, USCIS announced that it would be expanding its Policy Manual’s guidance on ‘unlawful acts.’ The expanded guidance provides examples of behavior that would preclude a finding of good moral character and aims to ensure that adjudicators “make uniform and fair decisions” on GMC, across the country.

These conditional bars are ‘temporary’ in nature and are triggered by certain acts, offenses, and activities that occur within the statutory period.

The expanded Policy Manual lays out some ‘examples’ of acts that will preclude a finding of GMC if committed during the statutory period:

  • Conviction or admission of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude, except for one petty offense. The Policy Manual provides examples of crimes against a person, crimes against property, sexual and family crimes, and crimes against the government that may constitute a CIMT;
  • Two or more convictions for driving under the influence;
  • “Willful” failure to support minor children, however, an adjudicator may make an exception if ‘extenuating circumstances’ are established;
  • Adultery that destroyed an existing marriage; however, an adjudicator may make an exception if ‘extenuating circumstances’ are established;
  • “Unlawful acts that adversely reflect upon GMC;” however, an adjudicator may make an exception if ‘extenuating circumstances are established.
  • An act is unlawful if it violates a law where it is committed.
  • The unlawful act need not result in a conviction.
  • The Manual states that an adjudicator must engage in a four-part test: (1) determine if the act was unlawful, (2) determine whether the person was convicted or incarcerated for the behavior, (3) does the act reflect poorly on the persons good moral character, and (4) are there any extenuating circumstances.
  • In the 9th circuit (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands), the adjudicator must also consider any “counterbalancing factors that bear on the applicant’s moral character.”
  • Some examples of ‘unlawful acts’ provided in the Manual are:
  • Jumping bail;
  • Failing to pay taxes;
  • False claim to U.S. citizenship;
  • Insurance fraud; and
  • Obstruction of justice;

In addition to the above, the expanded Policy Manual also provides detailed examples and explanations for other conditional GMC bars, including:

  • Receiving an aggregate sentence of incarceration of 5 years or more;
  • A conviction under a controlled substance law;
  • Imprisonment for more than 180 days;
  • Giving false testimony;
  • Prostitution offenses;
  • Smuggling of people;
  • Polygamy;
  • Gambling Offenses; and
  • Being a habitual drunkard.

Read here for ways to improve your good moral character.

If you would like information about good moral character, naturalization, or eligibility for cancellation of removal, please contact an immigration attorney who is trustworthy and knowledgeable! Our attorneys at Landerholm Immigration, APC, are experienced in complex good moral character cases. Please feel free to call us at 510-574-7377 to see how we can help!

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