U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently expanded its guidance on “good moral character” determinations in the context of naturalization. The agency issued related policy guidance on December 10 and 13, 2019.
Among other things, the new guidance emphasizes that applicants must show that they have been, and continue to be, people of good moral character during the statutory period before filing for naturalization “and up until they take the Oath of Allegiance.” The statutory period is generally five years for permanent residents, three years for applicants married to U.S. citizens, and one year for certain applicants applying on the basis of qualifying U.S. military service. USCIS officers are instructed to make such determinations on a case-by-case basis, and must also determine whether there are extenuating circumstances. Such a circumstance “must pertain to the unlawful act and must precede or be contemporaneous with the commission of the unlawful act.”
USCIS noted that examples of unlawful acts recognized by case law as barring a good-moral-character determination include but are not limited to:
- bail jumping
- bank fraud
- conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance
- failure to claim U.S. citizenship
- falsification of records
- forgery uttering
- insurance fraud
- obstruction of justice
- sexual assault
- Social Security fraud
- unlawful harassment
- unlawful registration to vote
- unlawful voting
- violation of a U.S. embargo
The earlier policy guidance instructs USCIS adjudicators to consider convictions for driving under the influence when making good-moral-character determinations.
The bottom line: the reasons for barring immigrants from naturalizing have expanded. Applicants should steer clear of committing any violations, no matter how seemingly minor, up to the day they take their oath.
- USCIS December 13 policy guidance, https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/policymanual/updates/20191213-GMCUnlawfulActs.pdf
- USCIS December 10 policy guidance, https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-implements-two-decisions-attorney-general-good-moral-character-determinations