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Good character 2: gray areas; the interview

Many Immigration examiners apply a tough standard when evaluating “gray area” moral character problems. Similarly, many examiners treat errors, small evasions or misunderstandings that arise during the interview as evidence of bad moral character. Be aware that your examiner – however polite he or she may be – may take a very critical view of your past errors and your answers during the interview. It is also common for naturalization examiners to review how you got your green card and to critically examine changed circumstances like a divorce shortly after gaining a green card through marriage, or a job change shortly after gaining a green card through work.

Lesser crimes, drinking, taxes, child support

Minor crimes and many other problems may be considered against you, especially repeat offenses or a negative trend that carries over into the three- or five-year good moral character period. Examples include:

  • a drinking problem, especially if you have more than one alcohol-related arrest (DUI, disorderly conduct, etc.), unless there is clear evidence of rehabilitation
  • willing failure to register for the draft
  • failure to pay child support or alimony
  • failure to file tax returns or pay taxes timely

Many examiners will give you the benefit of the doubt if you took action to correct tax, child support or alimony problems shortly after they arose. Gather evidence like payment agreements, receipts, or cancelled checks to show the efforts you made.

Review of how you got your green card

Expect close scrutiny of how you got your green card, even if you got it twenty years ago. Some common problems: Did you separate or divorce shortly after getting your final green card through marriage?; Were you sponsored by an employer but never started work in the job or changed jobs very quickly after getting your green card?; Did you get your green card in the 1987-88 amnesty programs using false evidence?; Did you get your green card as an unmarried child but had married before your application was finally approved?. Be prepared to prove that there were no problems with your original application, even if you got your green card many years ago. Do not assume that your having been approved long ago will cover you today.

Problems at the interview

During your interview be careful to not lie, be evasive or repeat or reinforce errors in your application. Some USCIS examiners treat errors or misunderstandings (like forgetting or downplaying a past arrest or tax problem) as false testimony and deny the application, even if the errors or misunderstandings themselves would not be a basis for denying your application.

Be prepared, be honest

You can avoid serious problems by carefully recalling your personal, immigration and criminal history, reviewing it with your attorney prior to applying, and being honest and direct with the examiner during your interview. Avoid being defensive or blaming others for past problems. If you have any doubts about your immigration history, or whether you might have been arrested or filed or paid taxes late, request those records and consult an attorney before you start applying for citizenship.

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