If someone wants to become a United States citizen or adjust status, he or she is generally aware that the process is quite complex. Providing all the relevant documents can take years. However, the most commonly confused provision is that requiring ‘good moral character.’ This term is not clearly defined in U.S. immigration law, and without a concrete understanding of what is required, your naturalization application may be turned down.
A Subjective Definition
The United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) Policy Manual defines good moral character as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.” This definition, as one might guess, is extremely subjective and difficult to define in hard terms.
Generally, if someone does not have a criminal record, it is a point in their favor. However, the mere existence of a criminal record is not an immediate bar to citizenship. The crime in question must be serious—something that is referred to in other immigration jurisprudence as a crime of moral turpitude (CIMT), which is also arguably not well defined. A crime of moral turpitude is a crime that has the potential to shock the conscience of the average person—but this, like the standard for good moral character, is highly subjective.
Even if you have a CIMT on your record, you may still be able to overcome the presumption against your good moral character if you can show you have since reformed, or if it was an isolated incident. In this regard, the law’s subjectivity may work for you instead of against you.
When Good Moral Character Matters
Good moral character is not important to show in every possible immigration circumstance—indeed, there are rare circumstances in which it might actually be disadvantageous to show. However, some of the most common immigration applications do require a showing of good character, without which your application will almost certainly be denied.
The most common of these situations is when you are a lawful permanent resident (LPR) applying for naturalization. You must demonstrate good moral character not only in a lack of serious crimes on your record, but also in being ‘well disposed’ to the peace and order of the United States. This is serious—in some cases, lawful permanent residents who leave the country and return may be denied entry if their moral character is not sufficiently acceptable. Good moral character can also matter if you are undocumented or have overstayed your visa. Some forms of immigration relief, such as cancellation of removal, are only eligible to those who demonstrate good moral character, among other criteria.
Get a Legal Professional On Your Side
The process of adjusting one’s immigration status takes a long time, for a multitude of reasons. To find out you are unqualified after months of preparation can be demoralizing. Talking to a knowledgeable immigration attorney can save you time, trouble and money. The experienced DuPage County naturalization attorneys at Mevorah Law Offices, LLC are well versed in this area of law, and are happy to help you get through what can be a very confusing time in your life. Contact our Chicagoland offices today for a free consultation.
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