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Chapter 4 - Permanent Bars to Good Moral Character

A. Murder

An applicant who has been convicted of murder at any time is permanently barred from establishing good moral character (GMC)for naturalization. [1] 

B. Aggravated Felony

In 1996, Congress expanded the definition and type of offense considered an “aggravated felony” in the immigration context. [2] An applicant who has been convicted of an “aggravated felony” on or after November 29, 1990, is permanently barred from establishing GMC for naturalization. [3] 

While an applicant who has been convicted of an aggravated felony prior to November 29, 1990, is not permanently barred from naturalization, the officer should consider the seriousness of the underlying offense (aggravated felony) along with the applicant's present moral character in determining whether the applicant meets the GMC requirement. If the applicant's actions during the statutory period do not reflect a reform of his or her character, then the applicant may not be able to establish GMC. [4] 

Some offenses require a minimum term of imprisonment of one year to qualify as an aggravated felony in the immigration context. The term of imprisonment is the period of confinement ordered by the court regardless of whether the court suspended the sentence. [5] For example, an offense involving theft or a crime of violence is considered an aggravated felony if the term of imprisonment ordered by the court is one year or more, even if the court suspended the entire sentence. [6] 

The table below serves as a quick reference guide listing aggravated felonies in the immigration context. The officer should review the specific statutory language for further information.

“Aggravated Felonies” in the Immigration Context

Aggravated Felony


Murder, Rape, or Sexual Abuse of a Minor

INA 101(a)(43)(A)

Illicit Trafficking in Controlled Substance

INA 101(a)(43)(B)

Illicit Trafficking in Firearms or Destructive Devices

INA 101(a)(43)(C)

Money Laundering Offenses (over $10,000)

INA 101(a)(43)(D)

Explosive Materials and Firearms Offenses

INA 101(a)(43)(E)(i)–(iii)

Crime of Violence (imprisonment term of at least 1 yr)

INA 101(a)(43)(F)

Theft Offense (imprisonment term of at least 1 yr)

INA 101(a)(43)(G)

Demand for or Receipt of Ransom

INA 101(a)(43)(H)

Child Pornography Offense

INA 101(a)(43)(I)

Racketeering, Gambling (imprisonment term of at least 1 yr)

INA 101(a)(43)(J)

Prostitution Offenses (managing, transporting, trafficking)

INA 101(a)(43)(K)(i)–(iii)

Gathering or Transmitting Classified Information 

INA 101(a)(43)(L)(i)–(iii)

Fraud or Deceit Offenses or Tax Evasion (over $10,000)

INA 101(a)(43)(M)(i), (ii)

Alien Smuggling

INA 101(a)(43)(N)

Illegal Entry or Reentry by Removed Aggravated Felon

INA 101(a)(43)(O)

Passport, Document Fraud (imprisonment term of at least 1 yr)

INA 101(a)(43)(P)

Failure to Appear Sentence (offense punishable by at least 5 yrs)

INA 101(a)(43)(Q)

Bribery, Counterfeiting, Forgery, or Trafficking in Vehicles

INA 101(a)(43)(R)

Obstruction of Justice, Perjury, Bribery of Witness

INA 101(a)(43)(S)

Failure to Appear to Court (offense punishable by at least 2 yrs)

INA 101(a)(43)(T)

Attempt or Conspiracy to Commit an Aggravated Felony

INA 101(a)(43)(U)

C. Persecution, Genocide, Torture, or Severe Violations of Religious Freedom

The applicant is responsible for providing any evidence or documentation to support a claim that he or she is not ineligible for naturalization based on involvement in any of the activities addressed in this section.

1. Nazi Persecutions

An applicant who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person or persons in association with the Nazi Government of Germany or any government in an area occupied by or allied with the Nazi Government of Germany is permanently barred from establishing GMC for naturalization. [7] 

2. Genocide

An applicant who has ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in genocide, at any time is permanently barred from establishing GMC for naturalization. [8] The criminal offense of “genocide” includes any of the following acts committed in time of peace or time of war with the specific intent to destroy in whole or in substantial part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group as such:

  • Killing members of that group;​

  • Causing serious bodily injury to members of that group;​

  • Causing the permanent impairment of the mental faculties of members of the group through drugs, torture, or similar techniques;​

  • Subjecting the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part;​

  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or​

  • Transferring by force children of the group to another group. [9] 

3. Torture or Extrajudicial Killings

An applicant who has committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the commission of any act of torture or under color of law of any foreign nation any extrajudicial killing is permanently barred from establishing GMC for naturalization. [10] 

“Torture” is defined as an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his or her custody or physical control. [11] 

An “extrajudicial killing” is defined as a deliberated killing not authorized by a previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees, which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. [12] 

4. Particularly Severe Violations of Religious Freedom

An applicant who was responsible for, or directly carried out, particularly severe violations of religious freedom while serving as a foreign government official at any time is not able to establish GMC. [13] “Particularly severe violations of religious freedom” are defined as systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as:

  • Torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;​

  • Prolonged detention without charges;​

  • Causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or​

  • Other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons. [14] 


[^ 1] See 8 CFR 316.10(b)(1)(i).

[^ 2] See INA 101(a)(43). See the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), Pub. L. 104-208 (PDF) , 110 Stat. 3009-546 (September 30, 1996).

[^ 3] See 8 CFR 316.10(b)(1)(ii).

[^ 4] See 8 CFR 316.10(a)(2).

[^ 5] See INA 101(a)(43)(B) . See Matter of S-S- (PDF), 21 I&N Dec. 900 (BIA 1997).

[^ 6] See INA 101(a)(43)(F) and INA 101(a)(43)(G)

[^ 7] See INA 101(f)(9) and INA 212(a)(3)(E).

[^ 8] See INA 101(f)(9) and INA 212(a)(3)(E). See 18 U.S.C. 2340 and 18 U.S.C. 1091(a)

[^ 9] See 18 U.S.C. 1091. See Article II of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (78 U.N.T.S. 278 [Dec. 9, 1948]).

[^ 10] See INA 101(f)(9) and INA 212(a)(3)(E).

[^ 11] See 18 U.S.C. 2340.

[^ 12] See 28 U.S.C. 1350 (Note). See Section 3(a) of the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991.

[^ 13] See INA 101(f)(9) and INA 212(a)(2)(G)

[^ 14] See 22 U.S.C. 6402.


Legal Authorities

INA 101(a)(43) - Definition of aggravated felony

INA 101(a)(48)(A) - Definition of conviction

INA 101(f) - Definition of good moral character

INA 316(e), 8 CFR 316.10 - Good moral character 


Appendix: History of Acquiring Citizenship under INA 320 for Children of U.S. Citizens who are Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Government Employees, or their Spouses

Before October 29, 2019, USCIS considered children of members of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employees, who were stationed outside of the United States, to meet the requirement of “is residing in” the United States for the purpose of acquiring citizenship under INA 320.[1] This interpretation was consistent with the definition of “residence” for purposes of naturalization under INA 316.[2] Based on this treatment of U.S. government employees and their children in the context of naturalization under INA 316, USCIS determined that “residing in the United States” for purposes of acquisition of citizenship under INA 320 should likewise be interpreted to include children of U.S. military and government employees stationed outside of the United States who were residing with their parents.[3]

This interpretation, however, was inconsistent with other provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), including the definition of “residence” at INA 101(a)(33) and language in INA 322(a) and INA 322(d), which suggested that the citizenship of military children residing outside of the United States should be considered under that provision rather than under INA 320. Effective October 29, 2019, USCIS amended its policy guidance to address these concerns, and determined that children of members of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employees stationed outside of the United States would not be eligible for citizenship acquisition under INA 320.[4]

On March 26, 2020, the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act was enacted,[5] amending INA 320, so that a child residing with his or her U.S. citizen parent, who is stationed outside of the United States as a member of the U.S. armed forces or a U.S. government employee, or is residing in marital union with a member of the U.S. armed forces or a U.S. government employee who is stationed outside of the United States, acquires citizenship under INA 320 if all requirements of INA 320(c) and INA 320(a)(1)-(2) are met. In line with the statute, USCIS rescinds its previous guidance, clarifying that these children are eligible to acquire citizenship under INA 320 if all other requirements under INA 320 are met.

The amendment to INA 320 applies to children who were under the age of 18 on March 26, 2020.


[^ 1] Even though the child of a member of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employee stationed outside of the United States may be eligible to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship under INA 322 since he or she resides outside of the United States, USCIS interpreted the child to meet residency requirements under INA 320 as well, which formerly required the child to be residing in the United States with his or her parent to acquire citizenship.

[^ 2] For example, U.S. government employees, including members of the U.S. armed forces, are eligible to apply for an exception to the continuous residence requirement for naturalization under INA 316 as long as their residency outside of the United States was on behalf of the U.S. government. See INA 316(b). See INA 316(a). See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements, Chapter 3, Continuous Residence [12 USCIS-PM D.3].

[^ 3] See Policy Manual Technical Update, Child Citizenship Act and Children of U.S. Government Employees Residing Abroad (July 20, 2015); and Acquisition of Citizenship by Children of U.S. Military and Government Employees Stationed Abroad under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), No. 103, issued May 6, 2004.

[^ 4] See USCIS Policy Alert, Defining “Residence” in Statutory Provisions Related to Citizenship [PA-2019-05] (PDF, 308.45 KB). This Policy Alert has been superseded by Policy Manual updates to reflect changes made under Pub. L. 116-133 (PDF).

[^ 5] See Pub. L. 116-133 (PDF) (March 26, 2020).


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