Demonstrating good moral character is extremely important when a permanent resident makes the decision to become a citizen of the United States. Just because you are hold a green card does not mean you are eligible to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
A permanent resident must show the immigration that he or she has been:
- continuously residing in the US for 5 years after obtaining Permanent Resident Status ( or if the residency has been obtained through marriage to a US citizen, then three (3) years if he or she is married to and living with the U.S Citizen spouse) or one year after serving in the United States Armed Forces.
- physically present in the U.S. for not more than 6 continuous months, and
- a person of good moral character.
What is Good Moral Character?
“Character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.” USCIS Policy
A person is said be of Good moral character if the person does not have serious criminal issues in his or her past, and that the person generally fulfills his or her obligations under the law. If you have ever been charged with and/or convicted of a crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT), your good moral character will be at issue. A crime involving fraud or dishonesty is usually considered to involve moral turpitude. Other crimes the law considers to involve moral turpitude are: arson, assault with intent to kill or inflict serious bodily harm, bigamy, blackmail, bribery, bad check convictions; burglary, counterfeiting, larceny, murder, perjury, prostitution, rape, drug crimes, receiving stolen goods, robbery,and sexual offenses.
Crimes that usually do not involve moral turpitude include simple assault, drunkenness, disorderly conduct, gambling and violations of government regulations.
You will be required to demonstrate good moral character for the five years before you file for naturalization and up until the time you are naturalized. If you became a legal permanent resident through marriage, you must prove three years of good moral character. If you are applying for naturalization through your service in the U.S. military, you must prove one year of good moral character.
Criminal record can affect ‘good moral character’ requirement for citizenship
So what does this mean?
When you submit your naturalization package, the immigration officer will look at the applicant’s conduct during the three-year period or five-year period prior to filing the application to see if the person meets the good moral character requirement. Some of the things that the immigration officer will look at are:
- The applicant’s record;
- Statements provided in the naturalization application; and
- Oral testimony provided during the interview.
It is important to know that questions about your good moral conduct can be asked about your actions before the relevant statutory periods. An immigration officer can consider earlier serious actions or affiliations that may raise doubts as to your good moral character. However, they cannot rely only on these previous actions or affiliations to deny your application for naturalization, and they must explain how these are related to your present behavior.
For example: Natasha became a permanent resident on April 1, 2006 through a petition by her mother. After ringing in the new year at a New Year Eve party with an Appletini, Natasha wished a friends a happy new year and took off in her car on the morning of January 1, 2007. She was subsequently stopped by Officer Mike and arrested for driving under the influence. She pled nolo contendere and paid a fine. In April 2014, Natasha decided that she wants to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Although the relevant statutory period is from 2009 to 2014. The immigration officer may consider that 2007 arrest even though it falls outside the five year statutory period.
What kind of evidence do you need to show that you are person of good moral character
If you are a person who may have your good moral character questioned, you may still naturalize if you are able to show that you have been rehabilitated. Character statements or character reference letters can be used to show rehabilitation. Good character evidence may come from your employer, neighbors or church. Evidence that you have been involved in the community, like volunteer work is also good evidence. Absence of a criminal record is good evidence of good moral character.
You Have The Burden
As an applicant for naturalization, you have the burden of proving your own good moral character. You should fully consider whether any of your past or present actions are questionable. This consideration will help you answer application questions and prepare for your interview. Remember to bring to your interview all documents and information that will help explain issues relating to your good moral character. If you believe that you may have difficulty proving good moral character, contact an attorney for legal advice.