Can I become a US citizen if I have a criminal record?

February 26th, 2019

One of the most important requirements for becoming a naturalized citizen (and one of the biggest complications that can arise at naturalization interviews) is the issue of “Good Moral Character.”

In order to become a naturalized citizen, one must exhibit good moral character for the five-year period leading up to their oath ceremony. The USCIS policy manual defines good moral character as “character which measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.” In fewer words, this means they must follow the law and be without serious criminal history.

While “Good Moral Character” is a fairly vague concept, USCIS more narrowly defines the types of behavior and criminal history that disqualify someone from gaining naturalized status in the US. These types of crimes are referred to as “crimes of moral turpitude” and include violent crimes and other aggravated felonies.

Some examples of crimes that can make one ineligible for US citizenship include: conspiracy, fraud, theft, assault, and most all violent crimes. In some cases, criminal history that occurred longer than five years ago (and was not a violent in nature) can be forgiven if the individual has had a clean record since. Certain crimes, such as DUIs, do not automatically disqualify someone from naturalization; rather, the interviewing officer can exercise discretion based on the specific circumstances of the incident.

If you have criminal history and are interested in naturalizing, it is a good idea to consult with an immigration attorney to ensure that you are eligible and that your case is properly represented.