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How a Criminal Record Affects Residency & Citizenship Applications

According to statistics from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there were about 830,560 citizenship applications in 2019. Becoming a citizen of the United States is an important milestone in the life of any immigrant residing in the country. Since "good moral character" is required for citizenship, having a criminal arrest or conviction on your record can affect your citizenship application.

The Law Office of Layne C. Savage is dedicated to offering comprehensive legal guidance and reliable representation to clients in immigration-related matters. As an experienced Rhode Island immigration law attorney, she will review the details of your unique circumstances and help you understand your possible legal options. Layne will fight vigorously to protect your legal rights and improve your chances of a favorable outcome in your citizenship application. She proudly serves clients in Providence, Rhode Island, Boston, Massachusetts, and the surrounding areas.

Understanding "Good Moral
Character" for Residency

One of the requirements for U.S. citizenship is that the individual is of "good moral character" (GMC). An applicant for naturalization must prove that he or she has been, and will continue to be, a person of good moral character for at least the five years of permanent residency leading up to their citizenship application. For spouses of U.S. citizens, the statutory period is 3 years prior to your application date.

To be considered as someone of "good moral character," you must show that:

  • You haven't been involved in any crime.

  • You're not a habitual drunkard.

  • You have been a responsible member of your family, community, and workplace.

Even if you meet the requirement for citizenship, your conduct prior to the five-year period may also affect the outcome of your application.

What is A Conviction?

For immigration purposes, a conviction can be defined as a formal judgment of guilt entered by the court. A conviction for immigration purposes also exists when:

  • A judge or jury has found the person guilty.

  • The defendant entered a guilty plea.

  • The judge has ordered some form of punishment or penalty.

  • The judge imposed a restraint on the person's freedom.

What is Moral Turpitude?

Moral turpitude can be described as an act or behavior that is considered unethical, immoral, or unjust and violates the accepted social standards. For immigration purposes, a crime of moral turpitude is an offense that was committed recklessly, with evil intent, or with some form of guilty knowledge.

Such crimes may be crimes against a person, property, government authority, or sexual crimes. Admitting to or having a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude on your record can doom your citizenship application.

Crimes that Can Lead to Deportation

Some crimes that can lead to possible deportation include:

  • Aggravated felonies, such as murder, firearms trafficking, child pornography, rape, and theft

  • Drug conviction

  • Crime of moral turpitude

  • Firearms conviction

  • Crime of domestic violence, such as domestic abuse, stalking, child abuse, neglect, or abandonment

  • Other criminal activities, including sabotage, espionage, or treason

In fact, some of these crimes can make you "inadmissible" to the United States.

The Effect on Green Card Applications

Having a criminal history may jeopardize your chances of getting a green card. Here's how a criminal arrest or conviction can affect your green card application:

When the Individual Has a Criminal Record

As mentioned earlier, criminal convictions such as aggravated felonies, illegal drug involvement, or crimes of moral turpitude will negatively affect your green card application.

When the Person Sponsoring Them Has a Criminal Record

For many family-based green card applications, a sponsor is often required by the spouse, child, or parent applying. Only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are allowed to sponsor a green card applicant.

If you have a criminal record, it is usually up to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) discretion to determine whether you can sponsor a green card applicant. However, you are automatically disqualified from sponsoring a green card applicant for prior convictions involving offenses against minors, including sex offenses, child pornography, or child kidnapping.

Waiver of Inadmissibility

Fortunately, you can waive inadmissibility for some convictions and crimes of "moral turpitude" in your immigration or citizenship application process. Applying for Waiver of Inadmissibility means you are requesting that the USCIS make an exception for you. An experienced attorney can help file your Form I-601 seeking a waiver of certain grounds of inadmissibility.

Receive Guidance from an
Experienced Immigration Attorney

Applying for a green card with a criminal record involves several complexities. Even when you've only committed the slightest crime, the USCIS could use this against you to determine that you haven't shown the good moral character required for U.S. citizenship. Therefore, retaining a knowledgeable immigration attorney is crucial to defend your rights and help navigate key decisions in your citizenship application.

Attorney Layne Savage has devoted her career to providing knowledgeable legal guidance and advocacy to immigrants with a criminal history. As your attorney, she will evaluate all the facts of your case and determine your possible legal options to apply for U.S. citizenship. She will help prepare your legal paperwork, handle all the documentation, guide you through every stage of the legal process, help show that you have "good moral character," or determine your eligibility for a waiver of inadmissibility. Having Layne on your side can improve your chances of the best possible outcome in your citizenship application.

Call the Law Office of Layne C. Savage today to schedule a case assessment with an experienced Rhode Island immigration attorney. Attorney Layne Savage can offer you the detailed legal counsel, assistance, and reliable representation you need. She is proud to serve clients across Providence, Rhode Island, Boston, Massachusetts, and the surrounding areas. Call her today to discuss your unique circumstances and get the help you need.