If you are a legal permanent resident of the United States, you may have thought about naturalization for quite some time. After all, not only does naturalization make you a citizen of the United States, but it also conveys certain rights and responsibilities that are unavailable to permanent residents.

Generally, legal permanent residents may apply for naturalization five years after receiving their permanent residency. Those who obtained permanent residency through their marriage to a U.S. citizen can usually naturalize sooner. Before approving your naturalization application, though, an officer of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must weigh whether you have good moral character.

Good moral character

For a successful naturalization application, you must prove that you have been a person with good moral character for at least the five-year period immediately preceding your application. Generally, to have good moral character, you must be a law-abiding, honest and respectable member of society.

Aggravated felonies

When determining whether an individual has good moral character, USCIS officers typically check to see if the applicant has committed any aggravated felonies. While what constitutes an aggravated felony for immigration purposes may differ from state or federal criminal law definitions, serious crimes usually qualify. If you have an aggravated felony on your record, you are likely forever ineligible for naturalization.

Crimes involving moral turpitude

While not aggravated felonies, crimes involving moral turpitude may make you ineligible for naturalization, at least for a while. CIMTs usually have an element of fraud or deceit. Whether you may become a citizen after committing a CIMT depends on a variety of factors. If you have rehabilitated yourself and a significant amount of time has passed, a CIMT may not bar you from naturalization forever.

Other conduct

Whether or not they constitute a crime, certain behaviors may also harm your chances of naturalization. Excessive gambling, substance abuse, polygamy, perjury and other bad conduct may complicate an applicant’s quest to become a U.S. citizen.

If you are a legal permanent resident, you should always understand how criminal charges may affect your immigration status. Further, before you apply for naturalization, you should be certain you are a person of good moral character, as U.S. immigration law defines it.