What are the Permanent and Conditional Bars to Good Moral Character for Naturalization?

The U.S. government requires that all applicants for naturalization show that they have good moral character. Of course, no human being is perfect. At certain points in life, someone may have lacked good moral character but then later may be able to demonstrate his mistakes were behind him. USCIS takes these changes into account to some degree by allowing people to naturalize after reestablishing good moral character for certain offenses. The temporary inability to show good moral character is known as a crime or act creating a “conditional bar.” However, there are some crimes or activities that are permanent bars to showing good moral character and therefore are permanent bars to becoming a U.S. citizen.

The permanent bars to naturalization fall into four main categories:

1. Murder. If you have been actually convicted of murder, USCIS permanently deems you from having the required good moral character to naturalize.

2. Aggravated Felony. Certain crimes are deemed to be so brutal that the U.S. Congress will prevent anyone convicted of them from becoming a U.S. citizen. These crimes are called “aggravated felonies” and most of them require a term of imprisonment of at least one year. Also, the date you were convicted of the crime has a great impact on your ability to naturalize. The permanent bar to citizenship from an aggravated felony only came into effect when the law changed in November 1990. Here are some examples of aggravated felonies:

a. Rape

b. Trafficking in Controlled Substances

c. Crimes of violence

d. Pornography

e. Prostitution

f. Tax evasion of an amount over $10,000

g. Illegal reentry of a previously removed aggravated felon

h. Passport or document fraud

i. Bribery, counterfeiting, forgery

3. Persecution, Genocide, Torture

4. “Particularly Severe Violations of Religious Freedom”

a. Torture due to religion

b. Prolonged detention without charges due to religion

Conditional Bars to Naturalization During the Statutory Period

  • Bars to naturalization during a 3 or 5 year period that are not permanent
  • Includes acts without a conviction or actual convictions
  • These acts or crimes must not have been committed within the statutory period and you must have good moral character all the way through the statutory period to the date of the oath ceremony.
  • One or more CIMTs (except for a petty offense)
  • False testimony under oath
  • Smuggling a person
  • Polygamy
  • Gambling
  • Habitual drunkard
  • Two or more convictions for DUIs


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