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Good Moral Character Requirement for Naturalization

Good moral character as a requirement for naturalization is “measured by the standard of the community, but does not necessarily require the highest degree of moral excellence.”

The relevant period for determining good moral character is 5 years (or 3 years if married to a citizen) preceding the filing of the application. However the applicant’s conduct and acts prior to the period may be taken into account but will not be the sole basis for denial of the application.

Certain behavior patterns and criminal activities are grounds for disqualification. The applicant must not have established a record of violence or repeated criminal activity.

Commission of the following are grounds for disqualification: corruption, fraud, and perjury, violation of drug laws of the United States or any foreign country, admitting to any criminal act, taking part in illegal commercialized vice, including human trafficking and prostitution, practice of polygamy, or being a habitual drunkard. Murder and aggravated crimes are grounds for immediate denial of the application.

An applicant lacks good moral character if his or her conduct within the applicable period is destructive to family unless he or she is able to establish extenuating circumstances. As it relates to conduct destructive to family, adultery that results in the dissolution of a viable marriage and intentional failure to support dependents are explicitly mentioned as conduct that will cause disqualification.

Furthermore, actions that have resulted in illegitimate children that become wards of the state may preclude a determination of good moral character. Situations that suggest sexual deviance such as incest also are detrimental to a finding of good moral character. Applicants should take special care in providing an explanation for such activity.

Applicants must establish that they are “well disposed” and “attached” to the government of the United States. Broadly speaking, the applicant must be not hostile to the American system of government and must support the United States Constitution.

Applicants must be willing to take the full oath or affirmation of allegiance to the United States without any doubt or reservation. However modifications will be allowed on the basis of moral or religious beliefs. Males must register with the Selective Service to prove that they are “well disposed” and “attached” to the United States.

Registration in the Selective Service is an important requirement and is fundamental to good moral character and establishing the “well disposed” and “attached” standards. All men between the ages of 18 and 26 not subject to exemption must register and provide proof of registration to USCIS. By knowingly and willingly failing to register in the Selective Service, the applicant casts doubt on his “disposition” and “attachment” towards the United States and shows his unwillingness to bear arms on behalf of the United States when legally required to do so.

There are also classes of applicants that are prohibited from naturalizing. Broadly speaking, people fit in a prohibited class if they profess, advocate, or are affiliated with groups that are anarchist, communist, totalitarian, saboteurs, and have published subversive material. Deserters of the United States and those who fled to avoid the draft military are barred from naturalization. People under deportation proceedings are prohibited from naturalization. Applicants relieved from military service not through an honorable discharge are also barred from naturalization.

The good moral character requirement may be daunting for some applicants. It is in the applicant’s best interest to disclose all information and ensure that all answers provided to the USCIS will not lead to disqualification under the good moral character standard.

What You Need to Know About the Naturalization Exam

Applicants for naturalization are required to pass an exam on English and their knowledge of American government and history. Although this exam may seem daunting to applicants, the USCIS reports a 95% pass rate.

The English literacy exam has both an oral and written component. According to the USCIS, applicants are expected to conform to the following standards to pass, “You must read one sentence out of three sentences correctly in English, and you must write one sentence out of three sentences correctly in English.” The standard is not overly strict.

The USCIS officers will allow pronunciation errors and word omissions that do not greatly alter the meaning of the sentence in the oral exam. Minor punctuations, capitalization errors, missing words, and spelling errors do not result in failure. Failure does occur, however, when the errors or omissions change the meaning of the sentence.

The history and civics exam is administered to applicants as well. The objective of the exam is to test the applicant’s knowledge of the benefits associated with citizenship of the United States. It focuses on the establishment of the American system of government and the purpose of the Constitution. Examples of the questions that are asked by the USCIS pertain to presidents of the United States, the Constitution, and crucial events in American history.

The applicant may be tested on events that occurred from the Revolutionary period to the present. This portion seems very daunting on the surface; however the USCIS provides ample materials for applicants to prepare. The USCIS website provides practice questions and sample tests in multiple languages. It is certainly in the applicant’s best interest to prepare for this exam. While most of the questions are fairly easy; some are somewhat more difficult to answer.

Applicants who are unable to pass the exam on the first try are allowed a second attempt to pass it within 90 days after the first attempt. The applicant may request for an extension for good cause.

Not every applicant is required to take the exam, however. Persons physically unable to take the exam due to permanent disability that makes it impossible to learn to speak, read, write or understand the English language are not required to take the English exam. Such disabilities may be due to deafness or blindness. As a rule advanced age or general incapacity to learn are not grounds for exemption. Applicants require an attestation and an N-648 from a licensed medical doctor attached to N-400 application in support of the disability.

It is also important to note that applicants older than 50 years at the date of application that have been permanent residents for more than 20 years and those above 55 years and have resided in the United States as permanent residents may take the exam in their native language.

The USCIS naturalization exam is undoubtedly daunting, but there are materials available to the applicant. Proactive applicants should make their best efforts and use the material provided by the USCIS to become more familiar with English and the knowledge of American government and history required to obtain their citizenship.

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