U.S. Citizenship and Good Moral Character

Proving good moral character is an essential element of any application for U.S. citizenship. Generally, this means avoiding disqualifying factors.

An essential requirement to naturalization is that you are a person of good moral character.[i]

What does this mean exactly? What if you have some problems in your past? How can you prove your good moral character?

All of these questions will be addressed below.

The Good Moral Character Requirement

To naturalize, you must show that you have been a person of good moral character for at least the “statutory period.”[ii]

The statutory period varies depending on your circumstances.

  • For certain spouses of U.S. citizens the statutory period is three years prior to filing your application for naturalization.[iii]
  • For certain military personal or veterans the statutory period is one or five years (depending on the military provision) prior to filing your application for naturalization.[iv]
  • For individuals not mentioned above, the statutory period is five years prior to filing your application for naturalization.[v]

Also, you must also show that you have remained a person of good moral character since filing your application.[vi]

What is Good Moral Character?

In essence, good moral character is judged by the actions of the average citizen.[vii]

Put another way, are you as good as the guy who is already a citizen? It is easiest to determine what a person of good moral character is by stating disqualifying factors.

Congress’ View

Congress does not consider you a person of good moral character if, during your applicable statutory period:

  1. you were a habitual drunkard;
  2. your income came mainly from illegal gambling;
  3. you were convicted of two or more gambling offenses;
  4. you committed fraud to obtain immigration benefits; or
  5. you were confined in a penal institution for an aggregate period of one hundred and eighty days or more;

Moreover, Congress does not consider you a person of good moral character if you have EVER:

  1. been convicted of an aggravated felony; or
  2. engaged in Nazi persecution, genocide, or violations of religious freedom.[viii]

USCIS’s View

USCIS does not consider you a person of good moral character if:

  1. you fall under any of the seven things mentioned above;
  2. you have ever been convicted of murder; or
  3. during your applicable statutory period you:
    • were convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude (unless it was purely a political offense);
    • committed two or more offenses for which you were convicted and the aggregate sentence actually imposed was five years or more (unless it was a purely political offense committed outside of the United States);
    • violated any law of the United States, any State, or any foreign country relating to a controlled substance (unless the violation was a single offense for simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana);
    • have been involved in prostitution;
    • have been involved in the smuggling of a person or persons into the United States;
    • have ever practiced polygamy;
    • willfully failed or refused to support dependents (e.g. your children); or
    • had an extramarital affair which tended to destroy an existing marriage;[ix]

It is crucial to keep in mind, however, that neither of these lists are exhaustive.

USCIS officer may consider any other evidence available to him or her to determine whether you are to be regarded as a person of good moral character.[x]

How to Prove Your Good Moral Character

So how do you go about proving that you have not done any of the disqualifying acts mentioned above?

  • You can start with an affirmation that you have not. When you fill out your N-400 you will be asked a series of questions about these acts. You will want to answer each of these questions honestly because you are swearing to their truthfulness.
  • You can supplement you application with additional evidence that shows you have not committed any of the disqualifying acts. For instance, police records from all jurisdictions you have lived in for the past five years is good evidence show that you have not been convicted of any of these acts.
  • You can submit evidence of your employment to show that all the money you earn is from a legitimate source. This should alleviate USCIS’s concern that you obtain your money through illegal gambling or other nefarious means.
  • You can submit statements from individuals who know you and your reputation in the community. Pastors, teachers, neighbors, and community leaders are all great sources to have on your side. Be sure, before you ask them, that they have favorable things to say about you.

If you have committed one of the qualifying acts, then you will want to submit any of the evidence mentioned above along with evidence that you have rehabilitated.

For instance, USCIS will likely view someone with a few DUI’s as a habitual drunkard.

So if you have been convicted of one or more DUI’s you will want to show the USCIS officer that you have changed by submitting evidence of enrollment/completion of rehabilitation/substance abuse program.

You may also want to speak with an attorney before applying if you have committed any of the disqualifying acts.

Together, you and your attorney can gauge the severity of your act and create a plan to overcome it.


For some, overcoming the hurdle of proving good moral character can be an easy one.

For others, it can be a time consuming and expensive process.

Speaking with an immigration attorney today can help ensure that this process goes as smoothly as possible.

[i] See I.N.A. § 316(a).

[ii] See 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(1).

[iii] See USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part F, Chapter 2, available at http://www.uscis.gov/policymanual/HTML/PolicyManual-Volume12-PartF-Chapter2.html

[iv] See id.

[v] See id.

[vi] See 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(1).

[vii] See 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(2); see also In re Mogus, 73 F. Supp. 150 (W.D. Pa. 1947) (Moral standard of average citizen).

[viii] See I.N.A. § 101(f).

[ix] See 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b).

[x] See I.N.A. § 316(e); see also 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(a)(2).

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