Becoming an American citizen is a dream for many immigrants around the world. But legal requirements need to be met, various forms to be completed, and applicants need to be a particular kind of person. That type of person is someone who meets the standards of “good moral character.” So what is this requirement, and how do you meet it?
You Need a Pretty Clean Record to Apply for U.S. Citizenship
While the term good moral character implies that American citizenship is looking for proof that a person is “good,” the testing process looks for the opposite! The citizenship application is far more concentrated on proof that a person is not "bad." So you don't have to worry that you need to show proof that you've given to charities or that you volunteered for good causes.
Instead, what you should be looking at is whether you have any proof or records of illegal things that you’ve done. The time period examined is usually the five years before the application for citizenship was submitted. American immigration is not going to pass over an applicant because he or she was not a saint, but if a person is a proven criminal, then that's a different story. We’re going to look at what applicants for citizenship need to have — or not have — to meet the requirements for the good moral character standard.
If You Are Applying and Have a Criminal Record
Not all criminal acts are equal, and some are considered very serious, while others are considered problems that may, with the right actions, be overlooked. However, having a criminal record is a strike against the good moral character standard, especially if you have a criminal record that includes:
Murder is a criminal act that is considered severe enough that it is usually an automatic and permanent “fail” of the good moral character standard. Other aggravated felonies, including bank robbery or drug trafficking, are also likely reasons for denial.
However, there are other violations which may be considered breaking that law, but may not be a permanent barrier to achieving the good moral character standard. So, let's get a closer look at the some of the acts that may prove to be an obstacle to meeting the good moral character standard, but may not be permanent barriers.
Lying to Enter the USA
If you lied to an immigration officer or filled out a document falsely for either yourself or someone else in order to enter the United States, this is a serious violation. Depending on whether this resulted in obtaining a green card illegally, this may be a permanent bar against citizenship eligibility, or it may be something that you can eventually work through.
Lying to Get Government Aid
If you have lied, either in conversation or while filling out a form, to receive some kind of financial assistance from the U.S. government, this will hurt you. It's a barrier, but it may not be a permanent obstacle to having good moral character.
Fake Citizenship & Voting
If you are not an American citizen but have lied about your status when questioned or filling out documents, this has a significant impact on your moral standing. If you have used that false claim of citizenship to vote in an election, it is especially serious. You’ll need to make a thorough evaluation of what your chances for citizenship are with this violation on your record.
Failing to Pay Required Debts
If you have failed to pay either your taxes or child-support as ordered by a court, this may or may not be a permanent bar for good moral character. It depends a lot on the exact circumstances, and the final decision can change on a case-by-case basis. Talking to an expert about your specific situation can make a huge difference.
Alcohol or Drug Abuse
If you have been charged with alcohol or drug-related violations, your application's success will depend on the severity of the charges. Drug trafficking after November 29, 1990, for example, is a permanent bar, to citizenship as it is considered an aggravated felony. A drunk driving charge, however, may not be permanent.
Illegal Marital Status
The United States only recognizes the legal union between two individuals. It is a violation to have a legal union with multiple partners. It is also illegal—though not a criminal act—to have committed adultery during this time.
Failing to Register or Desertion
Any male in America must, at the age of 18 and no later than the age of 26, register for select service. This requirement means if the USA decides to draft men into the military, you have registered your name as available to join the service. If you fail to register, or if you join the military, then desert it, this may be a permanent bar to citizenship.
You Still Have Options
As you can see, different types of acts are “graded” in different ways. So depending on your circumstances, you might still qualify for good moral character eventually. In some cases, waiting five or more years, without further violations, before applying for citizenship may be all that’s required to get an acceptable record.
On the other hand, your particular violations or record may require something more specific before you can safely apply. If that’s the case, then what can you do? Different people will have different needs or objectives to meet citizenship requirements. How do you give yourself the best possible chance?
Get Some Help
If you want some professional advice and guidance on the U.S. naturalization process for citizenship, come to us. When you apply with Aliro Immigration, we'll tell you where you stand with citizenship eligibility and good moral character. Then we can walk you through you what you need to do to address the issues that may be in the way of a successful application.