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Good Moral Character: An Important Requirement For Naturalization


After several years as a legal permanent resident in the United States, you may choose to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. You will file an application for citizenship, complete an interview with an INS officer, and take brief English and civics tests. As part of the process of naturalization, you will demonstrate what the INS calls your good moral character. Good moral character is a requirement of citizenship. However, good moral character is not specifically defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act or in the INS regulations. It has been interpreted as showing behavior that meets the standards of average citizens in the community where you live.

Of course, the standards of behavior in your community change as the community changes. However, in most cases, you will be required to demonstrate good moral character for the five years before you file for naturalization and up until the time you are naturalized. If you became a legal permanent resident through marriage, you must prove three years of good moral character. If you are applying for naturalization through your service in the U.S. military, you must prove one year of good moral character.

It is important to know that questions can be asked about your actions before the above time periods. The INS can consider earlier serious actions or affiliations that may raise doubts as to your good moral character. However, they cannot rely only on these previous actions or affiliations to deny your application for naturalization, and they must explain how these are related to your present behavior.

You should truthfully answer all questions about your past and present actions that are asked on the naturalization application or by the INS officer during your interview. If you answer in a way that raises a doubt about your good moral character, you will be asked to explain your answer. The INS gives waivers for some actions that might otherwise disprove your good moral character. The INS may deny your application, however, if you lie. Therefore, you must be honest, and you should prepare to prove your good moral character by gathering all documents and information you might need to help you explain your answers.

It is not always easy to know which actions will raise doubts about your good moral character. To help you understand and prepare for these types of questions, we've detailed below some of the reasons the INS might doubt your good moral character. In a future article, we will discuss good moral character and criminal convictions. Here we focus on actions that may not have resulted in your conviction for a crime, but which may still be a problem when you must prove your good moral character.

One reason for the INS to doubt your good moral character is a purposeful refusal to provide court-ordered child support. The INS has been focusing on parents-mainly fathers--who do not pay the required money to support their children. Your INS interviewer will be concerned if you are financially able to pay child support, but you have not done so. If the INS officer finds that you willingly failed to pay child support, your good moral character will be disproven, and your application for naturalization may be denied. However, the INS officer will consider any explanation you give as to why you did not make the required payments. The INS recognizes extenuating circumstances that might stop you from paying child support. Under such circumstances, your good moral character will not be disproven.

Adultery is another action that may affect your ability to prove good moral character. In the past, sex with someone other than your husband or wife would, if brought to the attention of the INS, disprove your good moral character. Today, you will not necessarily be found lacking in good moral character if you cheat on your spouse. However, your application for naturalization may be denied for acts of adultery that display your disregard for community standards of sexual morality. These include adultery that is intended to destroy your marriage or is publicly flaunted; adultery with a close family member that is, therefore, considered grossly incestuous; adultery involving some form of commercialization, such as prostitution; and adultery that contributes to the delinquency of a minor.

Other challenges to your proof of good moral character include alcoholism, failure to file or pay income taxes, failure to register for Selective Service, and the earning of primary income from illegal gambling. Your good moral character will also be questioned if you are suspected of lying to the INS in order to get immigration benefits. This is particularly true if you obtained legal permanent residency through marriage but were divorced quickly afterwards. The INS officer may suspect that your marriage was fraudulent and question you about it.

As an applicant for naturalization, you have the burden of proving your own good moral character. You should fully consider whether any of your past or present actions are questionable. This consideration will help you answer application questions and prepare for your interview. Remember to bring to your interview all documents and information that will help explain issues relating to your good moral character. If you believe that you may have difficulty proving good moral character, contact an attorney for legal advice.

About The Author

INSGreenCard was founded by William Carroll and Ben Ferro. Messrs. Carroll and Ferro have over 61 years collective experience as senior officers in the US and abroad for the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. Mr. Carroll’s responsibilities included supervision as a Director of the Los Angeles, California and Washington, DC INS District Offices and Mr. Ferro was INS Director for all of Europe (including the former Soviet Union) and the Director of the INS Amnesty Program. They each retired from the INS as Directors in 1998 to join private industry and possess unique and valuable knowledge and credibility in the field of immigration.

Our founders have assembled for INSGreencard a unique team of leading former INS technical and policy professionals (including several additional former Directors) with one objective in mind – to provide honest, reasonably priced and uniquely top quality immigration services to immigrants, prospective immigrants and their employers. The only other place that you will find this level of immigration expertise is the INS itself. is an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand immigration website brought to you by two former directors of the INS. Visit INSGreencard for expert assistance, helpful explanations, quick answers, up-to-date news, INS info and forms, comprehensive glossary, useful links, and best of all, INSWizard. INSWizard, your online immigration solution, guides you step-by-step through INS applications and petitions. In minutes, you get:

your completed, accurate form(s)
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INSWizard is a fast, easy and low-cost solution for your immigration needs. Use INSWizard today, only at, your Path to America.

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