Telephone: (702) 384-8600

English • Español • Française • Tagalog • עברית

Immigration law: The requirement of good moral character

Requiring Good Moral Character

Much of immigration law is about crimes and other unsavory behavior. Because the law tries to keep criminals from getting immigration benefits, certain immigration applications require showing good moral character for a specific period of time. Crimes even without a conviction can still prevent a person from receiving an immigration benefit.

For How Many Years Must an Applicant Show Good Moral Character?

An application for cancellation of removal of non-permanent residents require a showing of good moral character for a period of 10 years immediately preceding the date of the application.  An application for voluntary departure require a showing of good moral character for five years immediately preceding the application. An application for naturalization requires showing of a good moral character for five years immediately preceding the application or three years if you are married to a United States citizen.

Does the law define good moral character?

Immigration law does not define good moral character, but it does tell us when a person cannot establish good moral character. Finding a lack of good moral character is done in two ways: statutory ineligibility and discretionary ineligibility.

Statutory Ineligibility

“Statutory ineligibility” means that a person’s actions within the relevant period fit within the definition of  the Immigration and Nationality Act § 101(f). Section 101(f) tells us what conduct or criminal history precludes a finding of good moral character.

A person shall not be considered as having good moral character if, during the requisite time period  –
The person was an habitual drunkard,
a polygamist,
a prostitute,
having admitted to or been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude,
convicted of multiple crimes whether or not the crimes involving moral turpitude,
a violation of any controlled substance law, except for a single offense of possession of 30 gr or less of marijuana,
committed fraud in obtaining immigration benefits.
convicted of any crime for which you had to go to jail or prison for a term of 180 days or more ( the time of confinement pretrial is considered part of the 180 days),
has given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any benefits under immigration law,
has been convicted of two or more gambling offenses or get income from illegal gambling
smuggled aliens into the United States.

Discretionary Ineligibility

Even if a person’s conduct does not fall within any of the classes of persons mentioned in section 101 (f), the government still has discretion to find a person lacks good moral charcter, and thus make the person ineligible for the application. For example, serious crimes committed beyond the statutory period may preclude finds of good moral character. Another example is when a person knowingly gave false information to the IRS for the purpose of avoiding taxes.

Permanent Preclusion Of Good Moral Character

A person who was convicted of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990, can never naturalize to become a United States citizen because he will not be able to establish good moral character .