What constitutes “Good Moral Character” for purposes of obtaining U.S. Citizenship?

In my last blog I listed the requirements for Naturalization which included age, time as a permanent residence, continuous residence, physical presence in the U.S. and Good Moral Character. This blog discusses the Good Moral Character requirement. The law requires an applicant to prove Good Moral Character for the last 5 years.

The Application for Naturalization is a 20 page form that includes 50 questions (some with as many as 8 sub questions) regarding just about everything that a person could ever have done wrong. The questions include things like – Were you ever involved in any way with …. Genocide, Torture, Killing? Did you ever sell, give or provide weapons to any person? Have you ever been a prostitute or a bigamist? Have you even sold or smuggled controlled substances? The list goes on.

For most applicants, many of the questions evoke a little laugh. In preparing my clients for the interview, I explain that they should not take offense at the Immigration Officer asking if they have ever been a member of a Vigilante Unit or Militia or any other such questions. I explain that the Officers are asking all of these questions because they are required by law to ask them and it does not mean that they are suspected of these.

While I have never represented a terrorist or a member of a Vigilante Unit, some of the questions do present an issue for people that I have represented. The most common issues that I have encountered in my practice include the following:


If a person has ever been arrested anywhere even if not convicted, this must be disclosed and documentation must be presented of the arrest and the outcome of the arrest. Failure to disclose an arrest can be a cause for denial of the application even if the actual arrest was for such a minor offense or so long ago that the arrest record would be overlooked.

Common questions about this topic include “Do I have to disclose traffic tickets?” The answer to this is no, unless the traffic incident was alcohol or drug related or caused serious personal injury or if the penalty imposed was more than $ 500. If a person does have a DUI conviction, this must be disclosed but generally speaking the application will not be denied if it was a simple DUI with no injuries.

Sometimes I am asked if they must disclose an arrest that was expunged, sealed or otherwise removed from their record. This is a valid question because the most state laws provide that once an arrest has been expunged that they can honestly say NO to any questions such as “Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.” This is not true when it comes to the Naturalization application. All arrests must be disclosed even if the records are sealed and/or expunged. If the applicant does not have copies of the arrest and disposition records, they must petition the court to unseal the records to obtain the copies. They can later ask that the records be resealed.

Failure to pay child support or alimony

Question 30 H of the application asks “Have you EVER Failed to support your dependents of to pay alimony.

While I would never advice a client to answer No to any question when the correct answer is YES, I have never had immigration request proof that the client was up to date on his/her alimony payments. But Immigration ALWAYS asks for proof of payment of child support if the application reveals that he/she has a child who is under the age of 23 who is not living with the applicant parent. The reason for the age 23 cutoff is that child support is generally required up to age 18 and you must show “good moral character” for the last 5 years so you must prove that you have not failed to pay child support in the last 5 years. If the client has been late in child support payments he/she must catch up with the payments before the application is filed so that they can honestly answer no and be able to provide the documentation.

Failure to register for the selective service

When a male foreign national who is between the age of 18 and 26 receives permanent residence status, he is required to register with the U.S. Selective Service. Question 44 asks if you are a male who has resided as a permanent resident in the U.S. at any time between your 18th and 26th birthdays. If the answer is yes, you must provide the date of registration and your selective service number. If the applicant has not previously registered and he is still under the age of 26 then the selective service application must be filed before the application for naturalization is filed. If the prospective applicant is over 26 and thus no longer eligible to register then they must include a statement explaining why they did not register and provide a status letter from the Selective Service. Sometimes immigration will accept the reason that the applicant did not know they were required to register but this is risky and often my advice is to wait until they have turned 31 to file the application. The reason for the age 31 is the requirement for good moral character for 5 years and if you could have filed the application within the last 5 years (being under age 26) and did not, then you have failed the good moral character requirement for the last 5 years.


The questions related to taxes include “Have you EVER not filed a Federal, state or local tax return since you became a lawful permanent resident?” and “Do you owe any overdue Federal, state or local taxes?”

My advice to clients regarding these questions is that before they file the application for naturalization, they must file any tax returns that were required. If they have taxes that are overdue, they must provide a signed agreement from the tax office showing arrangements to pay the taxes owed and documentation showing that they are up to date for all of the agreed to payments.

If you have any questions about your application for naturalization, the office of Linda M Kaplan PA is available to advise and represent you.

Linda M Kaplan
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