Are you a person of good moral charachter?
Being a person of good moral character is one of the many requirements for obtaining US citizenship. An applicant for citizenship must be a person of good moral character for 5 years (or for spouse of a US citizen, 3 years, or for applicants in the military, 1 year) prior to filing and up to the time of naturalization. See INA §§ 316(a)(3) and 319(a)(1).
There are two ways a USCIS interviewing office may find a lack of good moral character. First, there are statutory grounds that can automatically preclude the officer from finding that the applicant has good moral character. Second, there are nonstatutory grounds that a USCIS officer can consider in order to determine whether the applicant lacks a good moral character.
The purpose of this blog is discussion of the non-statutory grounds that may lead to a finding of lack of good moral character.
- Failure to pay child support
Ivan became a lawful permanent resident in 2004. Ivan was married to Inna at the time. They had a child together, Victor. In 2008, Ivan and Inna divorced and Ivan was ordered to pay child support for Victor. In 2009, Ivan lost his job and could not continue to make his child support payments. Ivan has not made any child support payments since May, 2009. In May 2013, he applied for citizenship. Is Ivan a person of good moral character for purposes of his citizenship application?
Answer: It depends on the following. First, the officer will determine whether Ivan's failure to pay child support occurred within the 5 years preceding the filing of his application and up to the time of naturalization. Here, the 5 year statutory period goes back to May 2008. Ivan stopped supporting his child in May 2009. Thus, his failure to pay child support falls within the 5 year period. Unless Ivan has a very solid explanation as to why he could not pay child support, it is likely that the officer will find lack of good moral character because Ivan failed to support his child. Explanations such as "The economy is bad and I could not find a job" usually do not work. However, if Ivan was disabled or had some medical condition that made it impossible for him to work or seek employment, the officer may exercise discretion and find good moral character.
- Failure to pay taxes or claiming yourself as a "non-resident" for tax purposes
Boris has been a permanent resident since 2002. He applied for naturalization on May 1, 2014. He was busy at work and forgot to file his tax return for 2013. Can his failure to file a tax return for 2013 affect his naturalization application?
Answer: Yes, failure to file a tax return may be considered as evidence of lack of good moral character. The citizenship application includes a question "have you ever filed a tax return?" You must answer truthfully. If you failed to file, you will have to explain in detail why you did not file and whether you have taken any steps to correct your mistake. There are situations when an individual does NOT have to file a tax return. If you did not have to file a tax return, then you haven't failed to file a tax return.
- Failure to register with selective service
If you became a permanent resident before you turned 26 and did not register with selective service, the officer may consider this fact against you. You should provide an affidavit explaining that you did not know about the requirement or any other reason you may have had for not registering.
- Driving under the influence/ Can a DUI/DWI prevent you from naturalization?
Answer: Although a DUI/DWI conviction within the last five years of filing N400 does not automatically preclude you from becoming a US citizen, the USCIS officer can consider it when determining whether you possess a good moral character for purposes of naturalization.
If you have been convicted of a crime in the past, USCIS can consider the conviction when determining whether you possess a good moral character. Please note that even though you may have been convicted more than five years before your filed your citizenship application, USCIS can still consider your conviction.
Additionally, if you have a conviction, I would highly recommend that you consult with an immigration lawyer BEFORE filing your citizenship application. Why? Because certain convictions make you deportable/removable.
It is important to understand that the determination of whether an applicant is a person of good moral character is discretionary. USCIS officers are allowed to consider any other factors they deem relevant for purposes of good moral character
Authored by: Aneliya Angelova