Whether planning to immigrate to the United States or attempting to defend oneself against deportation, a person must demonstrate that he or she is of Good Moral Character. While there is no single definition of what constitutes Good Moral Character, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services does provide a list of offenses that a person can commit to tarnish his or her moral character.
In general, the offenses fall into two distinct categories: permanent bars to Good Moral Character and conditional bars to Good Moral Character. Immigration applicants should familiarize themselves with the offenses that fall into both categories.
Permanent bars to GMC
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are certain offenses from which a person cannot come back. If an applicant or immigrant commits either of these offenses, the government will permanently bar him or her from living in or attempting to immigrate to the United States. Those offenses include murder; aggravated felonies, including violent crimes, child pornography, theft offenses, racketeering or gambling offenses, and alien smuggling, among others; and crimes of persecution, torture, genocide or severe violations of religious freedom.
Conditional bars to GMC
Also pers the USCIS, there are conditional bars to Good Moral Character. An immigrant or applicant may trigger these bars by committing specific activities or actions, or by acquiring a conviction, within the statutory period of naturalization. This includes the period leading up to filing and the time of the Oath of Allegiance. Though the list of offenses that may trigger a conditional bar is lengthy, it includes the following:
- Controlled substances violations
- False testimonies
- Imprisonment for 180 days or more
- Crimes against persons, property or family
- Crimes against the government’s authority
- Habitual drunkard
It is important for applicants and immigrants to note that the list is not exhaustive and that the USCIS may determine a person does not have GMC for any number of unnamed actions, offenses or circumstances. For this reason, among several others, aspiring citizens or visa holders should work with an immigration professional during and leading up to the application period.