How USCIS Defines Good Moral Character

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • A good moral character is characterized by being an upstanding citizen without serious criminal charges.
  • USCIS assesses an individual’s character based on their history in the past five years (or three years for spouses of U.S. citizens) before applying for naturalization.
  • Evidence of moral character holds significance in specific immigration applications and court proceedings.
  • However, there are cases where proving good character may not be required or may even be counterproductive. Understanding the nature of the case is crucial in determining the need for evidence of good moral character.

Applying for US naturalization is a daunting task with extensive paperwork and interviews to go through. Therefore, it is natural you want to control all aspects of the application to make sure you get through. A vital part of the naturalization process is proving that you have been a good and upstanding citizen during your stay in the United States as a visa holder or a lawfully permanent resident.

The entire process of immigration is handled by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or the Immigration Court. These are the departments that conduct interviews to determine the moral character of applicants looking to acquire US naturalization.

While attempting to prove one’s morally upright character is essential in the application process, there may be instances where it may or may not be required. This article deconstructs everything about this clause and whether you need to determine and prove your good character for a successful application.

What Is a Good Moral Character?

A good moral character can be defined as an individual who is an upstanding citizen of society with no serious criminal charges against their name. Any individual who adequately fulfills their obligation as defined by law can be judged as having a good moral character.

The USCIS policy manual elucidates the concept further by adding that a good moral character is something that “measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”

Generally speaking, the USCIS judges the person’s character based on their history in the past five years before applying. If the candidate applies for the naturalization process as a partner/spouse to a US citizen, the duration is minimized to 3 years. Many applicants start collecting their accomplishments and proof of upstanding behavior without determining the need for such evidence.

During the interview, the USCIS officials thoroughly evaluate the moral character of the individual based on criteria set by the US state department. This criterion includes a list of crimes like gambling, perjury, drug offenses, and prostitution that may hinder your quest to prove an excellent moral character.

While proving one good moral character may seem logical and objective, perceptions of personal history are generally subjective in nature. For instance, if the individual has a history of misconduct but a significant amount of time has passed, the individual history may not reflect poorly on the application.

On the other hand, if a person has committed minor grievances like missing a traffic light, it is evident that they will not reflect poorly on the application. In cases of doubt about an individual’s personal history, it is recommended that the person applying for US naturalization consult an immigration lawyer regarding their case.

Moral Character and Lawfully Permanent Residents (LPR)

If you are a lawfully permanent resident (LPR) looking to apply for US naturalization /citizenship, you must show acceptable moral character during your time as a lawful permanent resident for the USCIS officials. The applicant must maintain an impeccable record five years before their application or three years if they apply as a spouse to a US citizen.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that if an individual chooses to travel outside the US as a lawfully permanent citizen while lying about their criminal history, the USCIS officials are well within their rights to deny the individual entry into the United States. In such cases, it is advisable to consult with an immigration lawyer before applying for citizenship.

Moral Character And Certain USCIS Immigration Applications

Providing evidence of a good moral character can be crucial in certain circumstances and types of immigration applications. For example, if the applicant is someone fleeing from a war zone, a victim of crime or abuse, they have chances of qualifying for a U visa or can petition for a green card under the Violence Against Women Act.

A large chunk of applications is made by those who are applying for a green card as lawful permanent residents. In this case, providing complete documentation of the applicant’s accomplishments and morally upright character is vital in getting the green card application approved by the officials. The aim is to prove that the individual is a morally upstanding person and is well suited to live in the United States of America.

Moral Character and Immigration Court Proceedings

Having evidence for a good moral character becomes essential when an individual is subjected to deportation or removal proceedings by the USCIS. Individuals defending themselves have multiple opportunities to apply for relief from deportation. In most of these cases, proof of satisfactory moral character becomes vital in strengthening the case of the applicant. Convincing the immigration judge of a good moral character can lead to the cancellation of removal and suspension of a deportation order by the immigration court.

Many choose to agree with voluntary departure to prove their character to the immigration judge and court. Voluntary departure can be defined as a self-departure, where the individual voluntarily agrees to leave the United States of America before a set date. However, the chances of this working are tenuous at best. The immigration judge can decide to deport you whether or not you choose to take voluntary deportation. Taking voluntary departure does not guarantee protection from deportation or removal from the country.

When Good Moral Character Is Not Needed

It may seem surprising, but there are certain situations where proving one’s good character may not be required or counterproductive to the process of getting a US naturalization. In some cases, demonstrating satisfactory moral character can weaken the individual application.

In a simple example, if a person is applying for US naturalization due to significant trauma or mental abuse faced by them, proof of significant achievements during their time in America can damage the overall case of the individual.

Similarly, if a person is applying for refugee or asylum status, attempting to show a good moral character may derail their case. In both instances, the person would benefit from detailing the obstacles and trauma they have faced in their home country to show that living in America is crucial for their life.

Proving one’s character is unnecessary when seeking asylum in America. Focusing on other aspects of the application can help the individual present a strong case at the immigration court for US naturalization.

Making a distinction among immigration cases can determine if the individual needs to collect evidence for a good moral character. The circumstances and personal history of the individual are crucial factors in deciding whether a character testimonial is beneficial to their case or not. Proving one’s good moral character requires a lot of time and resources. People can save themselves from the trouble of gathering evidence of a good moral character by appropriately judging the nature of their case.

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To conclude, it’s apparent that proving one’s good moral character it’s not a requirement while applying for US naturalization/citizenship. Judging individual circumstances and personal history can help determine whether the individual requires collecting evidence on their character. 

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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