Good Moral Character
You need to prove you have good moral character (GMC) when applying for U.S. citizenship. The USCIS looks for character flaws. Criminal offenses, dishonesty, alcohol problems, and domestic violence claims against you are all considered. If you have no issues, you likely will be able to show you have good moral character. Run-ins with the law, claims of deceit, alcohol problems, or domestic problems in the home, all raise concerns.
Permanent and Conditional Bars
There are permanent bars to establishing GMC: murder, genocide, or an aggravated felony are crimes that prevent you from establishing GMC. The term, “aggravated felony” refers to serious crimes. There is some dispute concerning what constitutes an aggravated felony for immigration purposes. Contact an attorney if you have any felony arrest or conviction.
There are also conditional bars to establishing GMC. They include controlled substance violation, false testimony under oath, prostitution, smuggling, polygamy, gambling, habitual drunkard, two or more convictions for driving under the influence (dui), or even adultery. These are offenses that raise a concern regarding morality. USCIS considers each case independently, taking into account your explanation for the behavior.
Five years, but sometimes your whole life.
Your GMC will be assessed for the statutory period of five years immediately preceding your application for naturalization and up to the time of the Oath of Allegiance (three years for applicants married to a U.S. citizen, and one year for certain applicants applying on the basis of qualifying U.S. military service). However, officials may look back even further, even to the extent of examining your entire life.
It helps to work on immigration matters with a qualified immigration lawyer. When there are no obvious issues, the legal fees are cheap and the service is helpful. When there is a criminal record or something in your past that raises a concern involving good moral character, or any of the other requirements for U.S. citizenship, it’s important to consult with an immigration attorney to help screen issues and navigate the immigration system successfully to conclusion.
It is therefore very important to consult your immigration lawyer before filing your naturalization application.
Conditional Bars Further Explained by USCIS.
In its recent update of Policy Manual, USCIS gave a detailed definition of unlawful acts. “This update helps to ensure that our agency’s adjudicators make uniform and fair decisions concerning the consideration of unlawful acts on good moral character when determining eligibility for U.S. citizenship” as explained USCIS Deputy Director Mark Koumans. The rules as such haven’t changed, USCIS official will have more detailed and coherent guidance when assessing your situation.
For details of permanent and conditional bars, including explanation, consult USCIS page https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-12-part-f