The USCIS released an updated policy manual with expanded guidance on unlawful acts and how those unlawful acts can negatively impact a person’s good moral character (GMC) determination in a naturalization application. GMC has always been a vague area of law in immigration. The reason for this is, GMC is not statutorily defined. An officer determines whether or not an individual has GMC on a case by case basis.
GMC is a requirement for U.S. citizenship. One must show GMC within the last 3 years (if they gained permanent residence through marriage to a U.S. citizen); or within the last 5 years, which must meet the standards of the average person with GMC in their community. Certain unlawful acts can lead to an officer to find that a person lacks GMC and will preclude them from proving GMC within the statutory period. The USCIS stated the policy manual did not provide a broad range of examples in the previous version. This updated version now list additional examples of acts that will affect a GMC determination. These examples include:
- bail jumping;
- bank fraud;
- conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance;
- failure to file or pay taxes;
- false claim to 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; and
- violation of a U.S. embargo.
While the above examples may affect GMC, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will definitely be found to lack good moral character. If you can show that you have GMC despite the unlawful act, you may still meet the GMC requirement. For instance, a showing of one or more extenuating circumstances leading up to the unlawful act may lead the officer to make a favorable determination. Also, a qualified immigration attorney may be able to review the act in detail to determine if your act sufficiently meets unlawful act criteria and whether you can overcome a negative GMC determination.
I cannot stress how important it is to seek legal advice before you file your naturalization application, especially in cases where you’ve been arrested or convicted. It is also important to consult with your criminal attorney to ensure you fight the charges or bargain for lesser charges or dismissal.
NOTE: As always this is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Consult an immigration attorney, like myself, for advice regarding your particular circumstances.