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What is good moral character?

Pat Malone • October 30, 2020

You must show you have "good moral character" (GMC) to qualify for citizenship. GMC is defined as meeting the (moral) standards of average citizens in your community. In general, if you are an honest person who obeys the law, you can qualify.

Most people can show good moral character if they pay taxes and child support, and do not get in trouble or break the law. The citizenship application has GMC questions about:
• committing crimes,
• harming others or belonging to a group that harms others,
• lying on immigration or government benefit applications,
• helping family members illegally enter the U.S.
• and more.
For a long list of good moral character questions, look at Part 12 of the citizenship application (Form N400).

A few GMC rules are tricky. Examples: Marijuana is legal in many states, but not for (federal) immigration law. In some local elections, voting is legal for noncitizens. But noncitizens cannot vote in a federal election.

How does the USCIS decide if I have good moral character?

The USCIS will investigate you. It can review your citizenship application, your other immigration applications, and use your fingerprints to find arrest or conviction records, and more. The USCIS will focus on the 5 years before you apply for citizenship and take the oath. The USCIS claims it can consider time before those 5 years too.

The citizenship application has many questions about moral character. For most of those questions, a "yes" answer is a problem. Examples:

• Did you ever say you are a U.S. citizen?
• Did you ever vote in a U.S. election?
• Do you owe taxes? Did you fail to file taxes?
• Were you in a military, police, or rebel group?
• Did you ever commit a crime (including crimes that you were not arrested for)?
• Have you been convicted of a crime?
• Have you been a "habitual drunkard?"

In addition, the USCIS may look at your marital history, employment history, tax records, your children's addresses, Selective Service information, and more. They may check if you:

• married for immigration benefits or were married to more than one person at the same time
• reported your employment for taxes, or worked for the marijuana industry
• owe child support (if a court ordered)
• registered for Selective Service or explained your failure to register (males only)
• had an asylum case, or come from a war-torn country, and were part of a group that harmed others.

Some serious crimes disqualify you from ever showing good moral character, and make you deportable.

What if I am not sure about good moral character?

Review your citizenship application, your green card application, and any other immigration applications. Check for matching information, or answers that might cause problems. If you think you might have a problem showing good moral character, get legal help. A legal expert can help you understand if you should apply now, apply later, or take steps to fix your GMC problem. To find legal help, click here. If you already have a Citizenshipworks account, write to us: support@citizenshipworks.org.

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