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What is “Good Moral Character?”

An individual applying for naturalization is required to show that she has good moral character – referred to by immigration attorneys as “GMC.” This is a technical legal term that includes much more than just criminal conduct. Let’s look at how USCIS examines good moral character.

The “look-back” period.

Generally, USCIS examines an individual’s conduct for the past three or five years in its assessment of GMC. It is five years for most applicants, or three if you are married to a U.S. citizen as described above. This is referred to as the “look back” period. But it is important to understand that USCIS can – and does – look at conduct prior to the look-back period. The most common example of this is criminal conduct outside the look-back period. In such cases, USCIS will determine whether the person appears to have re-established good character. A variety of factors can be considered, including:

  • Family ties and background​;​
  • Absence or presence of other criminal history​;​
  • Education​;​
  • Employment history​;​
  • Other law-abiding behavior (​for example ​meeting financial obligations, paying taxes)​;​
  • Community involvement​;​
  • Credibility of the applicant​;​
  • Compliance with probation​; and​
  • Length of time in United States​.​

Good moral character (GMC) bars.

The following events automatically prevent a person from establishing Good Moral Character if they occurred in the look-back period. If you committed any crime in the look-back period there is a strong possibility it will present a problem with establishing GMC.

  • Failure to pay child support/alimony. A person is barred from establishing GMC is he has failed to pay child support or alimony in the lookback period. In fact, an adjudicator has the authority to determine that a person lacks GMC even if there was no court order for child support. This could happen if there were other evidence that the person was failing to support his dependents. The applicant is not barred from showing GMC if he can demonstrate “extenuating circumstances” based on the following factors: unemployment and financial inability to pay support; the cause of the unemployment and financial inability; evidence of a good-faith effort to provide support; whether nonpayment was due mistaken belief that the duty to support had terminated; and whether the nonpayment was due to a miscalculation.
  • Adultery. A person is generally barred from establishing GMC if she committed adultery in the lookback period.
  • Crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). The term CIMT is a technical one that refers to certain crimes that show a person to be dishonest, such as theft.
  • Aggregate sentence of 5 years or longer. A person is barred from establishing GMC if she had two or more sentences against her, and the total of those sentences was five years or longer.
  • Controlled substance violation. Any drug-related conviction is a bar to establishing GMC.
  • Incarceration for 180 days. A person is barred from establishing GMC if she spent 180 days or longer incarcerated (i.e., in jail).
  • False testimony under oath to get immigration benefit. A person is barred from establishing GMC if she lied under oath for the reason of getting an immigration benefit, such as at a visa interview.
  • Prostitution offense. A person is barred from establishing GMC if she was convicted of any crime relating to prostitution.
  • A person is barred from establishing GMC if she was convicted of two or more gambling offenses, or if she primarily earns her income from gambling.
  • Other unlawful acts. Any other illegal activity can present a GMC bar if it is determined to negatively reflect on the person’s character.

There are also a more limited number of extremely serious crimes that make a person permanently ineligible to naturalize, regardless of when they took place. These crimes are:

  • Murder;
  • Any aggravated felony; and
  • Persecution, Genocide, Torture, or Severe Violations of Religious Freedom​.
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Greg is recognized as the leading national authority on enforcement of the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Greg represents low-income green card holders in lawsuits to recover support from their sponsors. Practicing family-based immigration law, Greg also focuses on helping married and engaged couples with U.S. immigration.

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