The effect of a criminal conviction on citizenship

For many of those engaged in the immigration process in South Carolina, the ultimate goal may be to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Such a process typically takes years to complete and requires one to adhere to a number of administrative procedures in order to qualify.

Given the length of time needed to become and citizen and the rigidity of the guidelines governing it, the potential for incidents occurring that endanger one’s progress towards it is ever-present. One such incident may be one facing criminal charges. A criminal conviction can certainly throw one’s chances of becoming a citizen into doubt. Thus, one hoping to attain this goal should know what actions may disqualify them for citizenship (either permanently or temporarily).

Establishing “good moral character”

One of the primary requirements for citizenship is proving oneself to have “good moral character” during the naturalization process. Criminal charges call one’s character into question. However, not all criminal charges are equal in the context of immigration and naturalization. Indeed, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a criminal conviction for any of the following actions permanently bar one from establishing good moral character for citizenship:

  • Murder
  • Aggravated felonies
  • Persecution, genocide, torture or other severe violations of religious freedoms

Breaking down conditional bars to citizenship

Ceratin types of alleged criminal activity may bar one from becoming a U.S. citizen on a conditional basis. In such a scenario, one convicted of such a crime may still qualify for citizenship, but only after meeting certain conditions. Per the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, such crimes include crimes involving moral turpitude, controlled substance violations, and multiple offenses that result in aggregate sentences of more than five years.

For both permanent and conditional bars to citizenship due to criminal activity, only crimes committed during the statutory period leading up to citizenship may keep one from becoming naturalized.