Good Moral Character Requirement

Why is Good Moral Character important in U.S. immigration applications?

Federal immigration law provides that an immigrant is required to be of good moral character to be eligible for many immigrant visa applications, permanent resident applications and most other immigration applications in the United States.

The following are some of the immigration applications in which the applicant must show good moral character:

  • Eligibility to become a naturalized U.S. citizen;

  • Eligibility of a VAWA Self-Petitioner;

  • Eligibility of a T Visa holder for lawful permanent resident status.

  • Eligibility of a non-permanent resident for cancellation of a deportation order or adjustment to lawful permanent resident status.

  • Eligibility of a non-permanent resident child or spouse for cancellation of a deportation order or adjustment to lawful permanent resident status.

What is “good moral character” for U.S. immigration purposes? How does USCIS define it?

A non-citizen’s good moral character is not determined by a single act, but rather is measured by a person’s actions generally. It does not require moral excellence, but is a measure of a person’s character derived by the sum total of all his or her actions. Many people engage in good deeds or display good moral character on a daily basis or believe that they can “make up” for a bad choice or bad behavior. This may be true to some extent, however, in assessing good moral character, USCIS looks for specific behaviors or acts that may even have only occurred once. For certain crimes and behaviors, USCIS will deem you as having a bad moral character.

Federal immigration law provides that an individual who is or has engaged in any of the following is not of good moral character:

  • Habitual drunkard;

  • Conviction of or admission to acts which constitute the essential elements of

  • Receiving one’s primary income from illegal gambling;

  • Conviction of two or more gambling offenses;

  • Known or reasonably believed to have engaged in drug trafficking

  • Coming solely, principally, or incidentally to engage in prostitution or having engaged in prostitution within 10 years of the date of application for immigration benefits

  • Conviction of an aggravated felony;

  • Multiple convictions with an aggregate sentence of more than five years;

  • Giving false testimony for the purpose of gaining immigration benefits

  • Confinement in a penal institution for an aggregate of 180 days or more;

  • Failure to pay court-ordered child support or alimony;

  • Failure to complete probation or parole;

  • Smuggling aliens into the U.S.;

  • Polygamy;

  • Participation in Nazi persecution or religious persecution; and

  • Illegal voting or falsely claiming U.S. citizenship.

  • There is a petty offense exception for one conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude.

    • A petty offense is defined as one conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude with maximum sentence of one year or less and actual sentence of six months or less.

  • The court looks to actual sentence imposed, not the possible sentence. If the imposition of the sentence is suspended, the sentence is not “imposed”, but if the execution of the sentence is suspended, the sentence is considered “imposed”

  • Commission of a petty offense does not bar a person from establishing good moral character.

Read our sections on crimes of moral turpitude, immigration consequences of criminal convictions, and the petty offense exception, for additional information on each topic.

I have not committed any of the acts or behaviors listed above. Do I have “good moral character” for USCIS?

The fact that an individual does not fall within any of these classes does not preclude a finding that she or he was not a person of good moral character for other reasons. Family court actions such as having a protection order issued against the non-citizen, interaction with law enforcement, failure to pay child support, and civil charges of child abuse or neglect can all negate good moral character.

The non-citizen has the burden of establishing good moral character. In determining whether the applicant has sustained the burden of establishing good moral character, the Department of Homeland Security or immigration court is not limited to the applicant’s conduct during the five years preceding the filing of the application, but may take into consideration the applicant’s conduct and acts at any time prior to that period.

Does USCIS consider any juvenile convictions or acts?

Acts committed while the alien is a juvenile may preclude a showing of good moral character, even if such acts are not classified as criminal behavior under state law.

Are there any other standards for considering good moral character?

For any individual seeking to obtain lawful permanent resident status through self-petitioning as a battered spouse of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident through a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Application, we recommend reading our section here.