One of the requirements for naturalization as a U.S. citizen is good moral character. Once you file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, USCIS will conduct a thorough review of your background and immigration history. An applicant for naturalization must show that he or she has been, and continues to be, a person of good moral character.
Generally, you must show good moral character during the five-year period immediately preceding your application for naturalization and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance. This statutory period is reduced to three years if applying on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen. But certain conduct prior to the five-year period may affect the good moral character requirement as well.
Permanent Bars to Good Moral Character
Certain crimes can be permanent obstacles to naturalizing as a U.S. citizen. In very broad terms, they include:
- Aggravated felony
- Persecution, Genocide, Torture, or Severe Violations of Religious Freedom
Aggravated felonies are generally serious crimes. But immigration law has a slightly different definition of aggravated felonies. Therefore, it’s always best to speak to an immigration lawyer before making assumptions.
Immigration law also has established bars to good moral character that are conditional (not permanent). These bars are triggered by specific acts, offenses, activities, circumstances, or convictions within the statutory period for naturalization, including the period prior to filing and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance.
Conditional bars can prevent an applicant from meeting the N-400 good moral character requirement. According to the USCIS policy manual, conditional bars include:
Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
Conviction or admission of one or more CIMTs (other than political offense), except for one petty offense.
Aggregate Sentence of Five Years or More
Conviction of two or more offenses with combined sentence of five years or more (other than political offense).
Controlled Substance Violation
Violation of any law on controlled substances, except for simple possession of 30g or less of marijuana.
Incarceration for 180 Days
Incarceration for a total period of 180 days or more, except political offense and ensuing confinement abroad.
False Testimony under Oath
False testimony for the purpose of obtaining any immigration benefit.
Engaged in prostitution, attempted or procured to import prostitution, or received proceeds from prostitution.
Smuggling of a Person
Involved in smuggling of a person to enter or try to enter the United States in violation of law.
Practiced or is practicing polygamy (the custom of having more than one spouse at the same time).
Two or more gambling offenses or derives income principally from illegal gambling activities.
Is or was a habitual drunkard.
Failure to Support Dependents
Willful failure or refusal to support dependents, unless extenuating circumstances are established.
Extramarital affair tending to destroy existing marriage, unless extenuating circumstances are established.
Unlawful act that adversely reflect upon GMC, unless extenuating circumstances are established.
Again, speak to an immigration attorney if any of the referenced categories may affect you. Minor offenses can sometimes be more serious in an immigration context. Conversely, other offenses may be resolved fairly easily with the help of an immigration attorney.