Written by attorney Scott Thomas Helsper

Naturalization and Good Moral Character

A person may apply for naturalization after 5 years of being a legal permanent resident of the United States (3 years if married to a U.S. citizen). One of the requirements during the 5 years prior to filing and to the time of becoming a citizen is good moral character.

To be eligible for naturalization to become a U.S. citizen you must be a person of good moral character. During the evaluation of your naturalization application U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will make a determination on your moral character. The following describes some of the things USCIS will consider when making that determination.

Committing certain crimes may cause you to be ineligible for naturalization (USCIS calls these “bars" to naturalization). For example you will not be able to establish that you are a person of good moral character if you have been convicted of murder, at any time, or of any other aggravated felony, if you were convicted on or after November 29, 1990. Other less serious criminal offenses may only be temporary bars to naturalization. Temporary bars prevent an applicant from qualifying for citizenship for a certain period of time (usually 5 years) after the offense.

The application for naturalization asks several questions about crimes. You should report all offenses that you have committed including any that have been sealed or expunged (removed from your record) including any that happened before your 18th birthday. If you do not tell USCIS about these offenses and USCIS finds out about them, you may be denied naturalization (even if the original offense was not a crime for which your case would have been denied).

Note that unless a traffic incident was alcohol or drug related, you do not need to submit documentation for traffic fines and incidents that did not involve an actual arrest if the only penalty was a fine of less than $500 and/or points on your driver’s license.

The following are 14 examples of things that might demonstrate a lack of good moral character:

  1. Any crime against a person with intent to harm.

  2. Any crime against property or the Government that involves “fraud" or evil intent.

  3. Two or more crimes for which the aggregate sentence was 5 years or more.

  4. Violating any controlled substance law of the United States, any State, or any foreign country.

  5. Habitual drunkenness.

  6. Illegal gambling.

  7. Prostitution.

  8. Polygamy (marriage to more than one person at the same time).

  9. Lying to gain immigration benefits.

  10. Failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony payments.

  11. Confinement in jail, prison, or similar institution for which the total confinement was 180 days or more during the past 5 years (or 3 years if you are applying based on your marriage to a United States citizen).

  12. Failing to complete any probation, parole, or suspended sentence before you apply for naturalization.

  13. Terrorist acts.

  14. Persecution of anyone because of race, religion, national origin, political, opinion, or social group.

If you have been arrested or convicted of a crime, you must send a certified copy of the arrest report, court disposition, sentencing, and any other relevant documents, including any offsetting evidence concerning the circumstances that you would like USCIS to consider.

Finally you must not withhold information or lie during your naturalization interview. If you do not tell the truth during your interview, USCIS can deny your application for lacking good moral character. If USCIS grants you naturalization and you are later found to have lied during your interview, your citizenship can be taken away.

We hope that this has been helpful but keep in mind the information in this article is not intended to be legal advice. If you have legal questions regarding the naturalization and good moral character, please give us a call at (702) 988-1199, visit our web site ( or email us at [email protected]. It will be our pleasure to help you.

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