What You Need to Know About “Good Moral Character” in your Immigration Case


One of the things you’ll have to prove if you want to become a US citizen is that you have “good moral character,” (GMC) usually for at least a 5-year period immediately preceding your naturalization application. You must continue to show GMC up until you take the Oath of Allegiance.

If your application is denied on the basis of GMC a good immigration attorney can challenge the ruling. But it’s better not to run afoul of GMC issues at all. Here’s what you need to know.

USCIS can go farther back if it wants to.

It isn’t at all restricted to the above-mentioned 5-year period. Sometimes that’s as far as USCIS will look, but not always.

For example, in its policy documents about GMC, USCIS mentions they want court disposition documents for any arrest that occurred on or after November 29, 1990 that might have been an aggravated felony. And that they want the information whether you were convicted of any crime or not.

See also: How to Become a U.S. Citizen.

You may need to present proof of good moral character.

Sometimes you may need to ask for a FBI background check or a clearance letter from locations you’ve lived in during the past five years. Proving you lack any criminal record paves the way to proving GMC.

If you’ve been arrested in the past or have some sort of a spotty record you may still be able to prove GMC. Presenting proof of positive community involvement, bringing in character witnesses, bringing charitable contribution receipts, or showing awards that would tend to indicate good moral character can be really helpful.

Some behaviors are an automatic bar to GMC.

Keep in mind there’s no statutory definition that can show whether you do have GMC. There are statutes which can help to show whether you don’t.

Permanent bars to GMC include:

  • A murder conviction.
  • Involvement in persecution, genocide, torture, or severe violations in religious freedom.
  • Certain “aggravated felonies” committed before November 29, 1990.

Read the full list of aggravated felonies here. Keep in mind some things which may seem minor, like failure to appear in court, are on the list.

Even some legal behaviors can be an automatic bar to GMC.

Marijuana is now completely legal in some states, and is legal under limited circumstances in others. As of right now, Pennsylvania law provides access to medical marijuana, but not recreational marijuana.

But USCIS says that working in the cannabis industry, possessing marijuana, and smoking marijuana is a bar to good moral character. Even if it’s being used for medical purposes.

While this policy could change as attitudes and laws do, marijuana is currently still illegal at the federal level. Best to steer clear of it and any other controlled substance while navigating the immigration process.

Challenging a ruling of poor moral character takes a great immigration lawyer.

Since “good moral character” is so fuzzy there’s legal wriggle room to challenge a ruling which says that you lack it. But you’re not going to be able to fight this on your own.

If you’re having trouble navigating the naturalization process due to GMC concerns, or for any other reason, contact Hykel Law today.

We Help Solve Immigration Challenges

How can we help you? Click on one of the boxes below to get started:


Employment & Investment Visas

Although it often comes with controversy, immigration into the United States has always played a major role in the strength of its economy. Perhaps no one understands this more than the residents of Philadelphia, where the Liberty Bell still welcomes foreigners to one of the richest historical communities of our country.


Family Visas

Not knowing or understanding the system and laws of the U.S. can be a disadvantage for many foreign immigrants who wish to obtain permanent residency in the United States, either for themselves or for their loved ones. Hykel Law’s Family-Based Immigration Services can lead you through the complicated process to achieve either temporary or permanent residency, depending on your situation.


Deportation Defense

Are you afraid of deportation? If you are a foreign national involved in the beginning stages of removal proceedings, the deportation attorney at Hykel Law in Philadelphia can help prevent this unfortunate situation. We can evaluate your immigration case and find the best strategy to defend you from removal proceedings to help you stay in the United States.

Call Now ButtonCall Us Now