If you are planning to apply for naturalization but are hesitant because you have a criminal record, it is important to consult an attorney to see the effect the criminal record may have on your ability to become a citizen.
In order to naturalize, an applicant must show that they have good moral character. Therefore, they must not have had any criminal conduct indicating otherwise during the statutory period prior to applying for naturalization. The statutory period may be either three (3) years (if married to US citizen) or five (5) years. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Crimes involving “moral turpitude.” For example, crimes that involve theft, fraud, battery, or sex crimes
- Drug possession
- Imprisonment for more than 180 days
- Perjury to obtain immigration benefit
- Gambling offenses
Also, USCIS may deny an applicant despite them having good moral character. Examples include an applicant not paying child support or not paying their taxes. Moreover, USCIS officers have the discretion to look beyond the statutory period. Officers will look further beyond the five-year period depending on the nature of the criminal act.
Even though the naturalization process requires good moral character during the statutory period, there are certain crimes that the USCIS cannot ignore. These crimes are aggravated felonies and murder. If an applicant had ever been convicted of one of those crimes, they are permanently denied Citizenship to the US. Not only will a denial occur, but most likely USCIS will begin, if not started already, removal proceedings.
As mentioned above, it is essential that an attorney is consulted when dealing with a criminal history in order to prevent the initiation of removal proceedings.