Good Moral Character Requirement for Naturalization

Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

The following lesson discusses the steps that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department takes to determine a good moral character which is a requirement for naturalization.

Good Moral Character Defined

Let's imagine that a hypothetical person, Juan, wants to become an American citizen. One of the general requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen is good moral character. While there is no universal definition of 'good moral character,' for the purposes of this lesson, let us consider good moral character as living up to the standards of the community in which a person lives. In other words, a person's behavior matches that of their neighbors and the person is a law-abiding member of their community.

In this lesson, we will examine what the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (USCIS), which is responsible for granting citizenship, uses to determine good moral character as Juan takes his hypothetical journey towards citizenship.


Those steps that Juan will experience in his journey to determine whether he has good moral character include:

  • looking into his background
  • providing statements on his naturalization application and during his oral interview

An Applicant's Background

When Juan decides to start the application process for naturalization (becoming a U.S. citizen), the USCIS has the authority to ask about or investigate his activities throughout his entire life; though, unless there is reason to dig deeply, this background investigation is generally focused on the most recent five years. The background check may include such things as his:

  • family ties and background
  • education
  • employment history
  • evidence he has been paying taxes
  • community involvement
  • length of time in the U.S.
  • any other activity or information deemed appropriate

The USCIS also specifically mentions specific things which might bar Juan from obtaining citizenship either permanently or conditionally. Juan would not have good moral character and be barred permanently from U.S. citizenship if he ever was convicted of:

  • murder
  • an aggravated felony
  • participating in genocide, serious persecution, or torture

Juan might also be deemed as not having good moral character for other things as well but some things may be forgiven after a period of five years (or three if he is married to a U.S. citizen) for such things as:

  • minor drug offenses
  • gambling offenses
  • alcohol abuse
  • smuggling illegal aliens into the U.S.
  • crimes of moral turpitude (questionable morality)
  • imprisonment
  • sexual crimes including prostitution, polygamy, adultery, and solicitation
  • false testimony in court
  • failure to comply with legal mandates, such as dependent support

To recap, let's look at what the background check is comprised of.

Naturalization Background Check Includes
Identity Verification
Personal Involvement in Community
Criminal Record (some crimes permanently ban citizenship)

Application Statements

It's very important that Juan is honest when filling out his naturalization application, and when he is answering questions during his naturalization interview. Officers will take into account Juan's education level and ability to speak English during his interview, but it's important that Juan fully understands the question while answering. The naturalization officer may also request that Juan provide a court disposition or police record to certify that Juan has not committed any crimes.

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