In terms of legal context, good normal character refers to a requirement that an applicant for naturalization must demonstrate. Thus, in order to become a natural citizen in the United States, an applicant must demonstrate their good moral character. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) provides the definition of good moral character as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”
As can be seen by the definition provided, what constitutes good moral character is very broad, and it is ultimately up to the case reviewer’s discretion whether or not the applicant has good normal character for the community. Case reviewers can be an officer or judge, depending on where the application process is taking place. Because the definition regarding good moral character is so vague, it is up to the applicant to demonstrate that they possess good moral character.
Typically, the applicant must show that for at least the past 5 years, they have continued to be a person of good moral character. In fact, the United States Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”) provides further explanation as to how an applicant can demonstrate they have good moral character, and the time period in which the applicant must have good moral character.
The CFR states, “An applicant for naturalization bears the burden of demonstrating that, during the statutorily prescribed period, he or she has been and continues to be a person of good moral character. This includes the period between the examination and the administration of the oath of allegiance.” Although similar to the USCIS, the CFR also does not provide a clear definition of what constitutes good moral character, the CFR does provide a list of examples of what constitutes poor moral character.
What Are Examples of Poor Moral Character?
As mentioned above, the Code of Federal Regulations and USCIS provide a few examples as to what constitutes poor moral character. Examples of factors that may be used in making a determination as to whether or not an individual possesses poor moral character include:
- Whether or not the applicant has been convicted of murder or of an aggravated felony;
- Whether or not the applicant has failed to pay any court-ordered child support or alimony;
- Whether or not the applicant has failed to file or to pay income taxes;
- Whether or not the applicant has failed to register for Selective Service (if you are required to do so);
- Whether or not the applicant lied to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services on their application in order to attain immigration benefits;
- Whether or not the applicant has been convicted of driving under the influence (“DUI”) or driving while intoxicated (“DWI”), or other drug related crimes;
- Whether or not the individual has engaged in illegal gambling as a means of earning their primary income;
- Whether or not the applicant has committed adultery; and/or
- Whether or not the applicant has violated any other Federal or state law of the United States or any foreign laws.
Once again, what constitutes poor moral character is also very broad, with a few noted exceptions, such as illegal gambling. Therefore, it is up to the applicant to prove they are worthy of the application reviewer’s discretion in being someone with good moral character. If an applicant has done one of the actions in the list above, they should be prepared to provide evidence to the application reviewer as to why that does not constitute poor moral character.
The applicant will generally be required to provide their criminal history and records for the past five years preceding their application for naturalization and continue to do so up until they take the Oath of Allegiance. However, just because an action occurred before the five year period preceding the application, does not mean that such actions will not also impact the applicants requirement of demonstrating good moral character.
What if I Lacked Good Moral Character in the Past?
As noted above, immigration officers and judges have complete discretion in examining an applicant’s entire life, especially regarding the five year period preceding the naturalization application. Thus, if you lacked good moral character in the past, but have not had any recent examples of actions that would constitute poor moral character, it is important to highlight this fact to the application reviewer.
Once again, it is up to the applicant to provide the past 5 years of their history. If there are any negative remarks on that history, it is important to demonstrate how those negative remarks do not constitute poor moral character. For example, if you had a minor drug possession charge 4 years ago, you could demonstrate that the charge was expunged from your record.
What If I Have Been Convicted of a Crime, but the Record Has Been Expunged?
An applicant will need to disclose all records concerning any arrests, convictions, and crimes for at least the past 5 years preceding their application. Thus, expunged records must still be reported by the applicant, even though the records have been expunged. Even though with expungement the record of an individual’s conviction are sealed and treated as they no longer exist, the criminal action still occurred.
Hiding an action that was expunged may even be considered by some immigration officers as having poor moral character, and led to the denial of your application. Therefore, it is important to be completely honest in one’s application.
What Are My Options if My Application Is Denied Based on My Moral Character?
If your application for naturalization has been denied, you will receive a letter explaining the reason(s) for the denial. The denial letter will also contain information about appealing the decision. Applicants may file an appeal and request a hearing with an immigration officer if they feel that they were unfairly denied naturalization, such as the immigration officer abusing their discretion. Further, in some cases an applicant may reapply for naturalization after a specified time.
Once again, criminal records are prevalent and are easy to obtain by both the applicant and the immigration officer. Therefore, it is important to prove that you have a good moral character. An applicant can provide evidence of their good moral character by providing evidence of them participating in voluntary community service, or through letters of recommendation from individuals in their community.
Further, letters that demonstrate the applicant volunteering in organizations or events in their community will also be good evidence for demonstrating good moral character. You can always ask for a letter showing your participation in an organization or a fundraiser. You may also get letters of recommendation from your employer. The more diverse the recommendations are, the greater the chance that the application reviewer will find you possess good moral character.
Do I Need an Immigration Lawyer for Help Demonstrating Good Moral Character?
As can be seen, meeting the application requirement of demonstrating good moral character is incredibly broad. An experienced immigration lawyer in your area can assist you in preparing for the naturalization process, as well as becoming familiar with the questions that may be asked regarding good moral character. Further, an immigration attorney will ensure you meet all of the deadlines with the application. Finally, an attorney can represent you throughout the entire application process, as well as the appeal process, if necessary.