Will I Run Into Problems When Applying for Naturalization?

Naturalization is the process through which U.S. immigrants, usually Permanent Residents, can apply for American citizenship. One of the requirements is that the applicant be of Good Moral Character (GMC). A person lacking GMC may be barred from acquiring citizenship either permanently or temporarily.

Permanent Bars to Citizenship

  1. Murder: an applicant who has been convicted of murder at any time is permanently barred from establishing GMC for naturalization.
  2. Aggravated Felony: An applicant who is convicted of an aggravated felony after November 29, 1990 is permanently barred from naturalization. Aggravated felonies range from rape and other sexual offences to fraud and money laundering offenses over $10,000.
  3. An individual involved in persecution, genocide, torture, or severe violations of religious freedom is also permanently barred from naturalization.

Additionally, it is likely that individuals will be placed in removal proceedings once USCIS realizes that one of these crimes is on their record. To learn more about permanent bars to naturalization, please visit the USCIS’s official webpage on the subject.

Temporary Bars to Citizenship

Certain crimes establishing that a person is lacking in GMC may also make a person temporarily ineligible for citizenship. If such crimes are committed, the applicant has to wait for the statutory period before he/she is eligible to apply for naturalization, starting from the date that the incident took place. The statutory period is 3 years for people who derived Permanent Residence through marriage and 5 years for everyone else. The following crimes are considered temporary or conditional bars to naturalization:

  1. Crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMT): there is no statutory definition for this term; however, courts have interpreted it to mean any act that “shocks the public conscience.” Usually,the perpetrator is required to have had the intent to commit an offense for the conduct to be considered CIMT. It should be noted that certain crimes may be CIMT in some states but not in others.
  2. Aggregate Sentence of 5 years or more: Convictions of 2 or more offenses with combined sentences of 5 years or more except political offenses.
  3. Violation of any law on controlled substances except simple possession of marijuana of 30 grams or less.
  4. Incarceration for a total period of 180 days or more, except political offense ensuing confinement abroad.
  5. Providing false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any immigration benefit.
  6. Prostitution offenses including being a prostitute, running a prostitution ring, or hiring a prostitute.
  7. Involved in smuggling of a person to enter or try to enter the United States in violation of law.
  8. Polygamy
  9. Having 2 or more gambling offenses or deriving income principally from illegal gambling activities.
  10. Being a habitual drunkard
  11. Failure to Support Dependents
  12. Adultery: Had an extramarital affair that tended to destroy an existing marriage, unless extenuating circumstances are established.
  13. Unlawful Acts: include acts that are against the law, illegal, or against moral or ethical standards of the community. This provision may apply to cases where an offense is not specifically listed above but rises to the level of preventing the applicant from establishing GMC.  

In addition, crimes that are not listed may also prevent the applicant from establishing GMC. Because statutes vary from state to state, and USCIS officers have a lot of leeway in interpreting CIMT, it is not possible to list every single incident that would prevent one from acquiring U.S. citizenship.

Understanding whether an offense precludes you from applying for naturalization can be frustrating. If you or someone you know would like to become a U.S. citizen, but are unsure about qualifications for naturalization, please contact the Law Offices of Vaughan de Kirby at (415) 221-2345. 

Vaughan de Kirby
California Immigration Attorney