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Can a DUI Affect the Naturalization Process?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 14, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There are a lot of steps to gaining U.S. citizenship, meaning that there are also plenty of opportunities to trip up. Citizenship and immigration officials can be selective, and applicants don't want to give them any reason to reject their application.

But is a simple drunk driving charge enough reason to deny citizenship? Here's how a DUI could impact your naturalization process.


One of the requirements for naturalization is a demonstration that the applicant is a person of "good moral character," or GMC. Some moral character issues can permanently bar the applicant from U.S. citizenship, while others may only act as a temporary bar to naturalization. And criminal convictions can impact a GMC determination.

Generally speaking, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) only look at the last five years of an applicant's conduct. However, earlier conduct can also be considered and some crimes can prevent the offender from qualifying for naturalization for a specified period of time after committing the offense. While the definition of good moral character can be broad, USCIS provides a list of issues that might indicate a lack of good moral character, including two or more criminal convictions for which the aggregate sentence was five years or more, violating any controlled substance law, and habitual drunkenness.

DUIs and Deportation

Whether a DUI conviction will impact your GMC determination can depend on how the statute is worded in your state. A DUI alone is not considered a crime of violence or moral turpitude, but if a state DUI law includes language like "reckless," "malicious," or "evil intent," a conviction could impinge on a moral character decision. Also, a DUI on a suspended license could be seen as willfully disobeying the law, since you shouldn't have been driving in the first place.

And, of course, if your DUI is a felony offense, you could run the risk of deportation. To find out how a DUI conviction might affect your naturalization process, contact a local DUI attorney today.

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