When pursuing naturalization in the United States, demonstrating Good Moral Character (GMC) is a fundamental requirement. This article delves into the concept of Good Moral Character, its significance, and the implications of failing to meet this requirement. As a seasoned immigration and criminal defense attorney practicing in New York and New Jersey, I’ll provide clarity on this intricate aspect of the naturalization process.

Defining Good Moral Character

Good Moral Character, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy manual, is a measure of one’s character against the standards observed by average citizens in their community. In simpler terms, it signifies being an upright member of society. However, proving one’s good moral character can be complex, with several automatic bars in the Immigration and Nationality Act that can hinder the process.

Structuring Your Application

To navigate the naturalization process successfully, meticulous attention to detail is essential. It begins with completing your application for naturalization honestly and comprehensively. Falsifying information or omitting requested data can jeopardize your quest for good moral character, potentially leading to the USCIS denying your application.

Applicants must fully disclose all criminal convictions, including sealed or expunged records or offenses committed during their youth. USCIS conducts thorough background checks and criminal investigations, leaving no room for undisclosed information.

Legal Barriers to Good Moral Character

Certain criminal convictions carry permanent bars to demonstrating good moral character. For instance, individuals convicted of murder at any point or aggravated felonies post-November 29, 1990, are unable to establish good moral character.

Less severe offenses, involving crimes of moral turpitude, may present temporary bars. These temporary bars impede eligibility for citizenship for a specified period, typically five years following the offense.

Examples of Disqualifying Behaviors

Some behaviors that can indicate a lack of good moral character include:

Any crime involving fraud or malicious intent against property or government.
Crimes with intent to harm others.
Accumulating two or more offenses leading to a cumulative sentence of five years or more.
Violation of controlled substance laws, be it federal, state, or foreign.
Habitual drunkenness.
Involvement in gambling offenses.
Engagement in prostitution.
Practicing polygamy (marriage to multiple individuals concurrently).
Providing false testimony for immigration benefits.
Failure to meet court-ordered child support or alimony payments.
Confinement in jail, prison, or similar institutions for a total of 180 days or more in the past five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen during application).
Incomplete probation, parole, or suspended sentences.
Involvement in terrorist activities.
Persecution of individuals based on race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or social affiliations.
Maintaining Good Moral Character

After the interview but before the naturalization ceremony, permanent residents must continue demonstrating good moral character. Any actions indicating a lack of GMC during this period can lead to the USCIS revoking their decision, potentially resulting in denial of naturalization.


Naturalization is a significant step towards becoming a U.S. citizen, but it demands a clear understanding of good moral character and its implications. Ensure you meet the standards expected by the USCIS to secure your path to citizenship. Should you face challenges in establishing good moral character, consulting with an experienced immigration law firm is imperative.

Remember, your Certificate of Naturalization is not just a document; it’s your proof of U.S. citizenship, crucial for passport applications, government benefits, and employment requiring proof of citizenship. Keep it safe, as it symbolizes your journey towards a new chapter in your life as a U.S. citizen.