Skip to content

Good Moral Character for Naturalization

All applicants for naturalization to U.S. citizenship must demonstrate that they have good moral character.  What does that mean?  What types of convictions or acts disqualify an applicant from it?  When must it be shown?  Those answers are discussed below.

What Is Good Moral Character?

The Immigration and Nationality Act does not explicitly define good moral character. The regulations don't either, but instead provide that USCIS must decide the issue “on a case-by-case basis taking into account the elements enumerated in [the regulation defining when an applicant does not have good moral character] and the standards of the average citizen in the community of residence.” See 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(2).

In practice, this means that USCIS will assume a naturalization applicant has good moral character (GMC) if he or she does not have a criminal history or other misconduct.  Applicants who do have a history of bad acts may be permanently or temporary ineligible to prove GMC. Applicants with less serious misconduct may need to prove that the misconduct resulted from extenuating circumstances.

When Must GMC Be Shown?

An applicant for naturalization must show good moral character for a specific length of time before applying for naturalization and then must maintain that good character through the date of the citizenship oath.  The number of years of GMC required before applying depends on the basis for the application.  Most applicants require 5 years of good character.  Certain spouses of U.S. citizens have a 3-year period.  USCIS permits members of the military who have served during hostilities to demonstrate only 1 year of GMC.

What many applicants are not aware of, though, is that USCIS can and does consider convictions and conduct outside of the above time periods.  USCIS will consider whether bad acts outside of the time periods reflect on the applicant‘s current character or whether there has been a reform of character. More serious crimes have a longer lasting impact on an applicant‘s character. These applicants may need to prove rehabilitation or reform to obtain approval of their naturalization application.