Certain immigration cases can greatly benefit from a good character reference letter. While it is not always a legal requirement to submit these reference letters, they are usually a good idea. A good moral character letter for immigration should speak positively about an immigration applicant’s good qualities and upstanding character. Many people understand what an immigration letter is, but they struggle to determine how to write one and what to include.
At Ybarra Maldonado Law Group, we have received countless requests and inquiries regarding character reference letters for immigration. We have educated many clients on the importance of good moral character letters, as well as helped them write those letters.
Our firm is dedicated to helping immigrants and their family members find success in their immigration cases. To schedule a consultation with our Phoenix immigration lawyers, please call our office at 602-910-4040 today.
What Is a Good Moral Character Letter for Immigration?
A good moral character letter is one that attests to an immigration applicant’s positive deeds, qualities, and personality. Good moral character, according to the USCIS Policy Manual, Part F, means that someone’s behavior “measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides.”
When someone commits a serious crime, such as a crime of moral turpitude, this can hinder someone’s status as a person of good moral character. A person with good moral character must show and maintain that they meet the requirements of being a good citizen. It is not necessary for someone to be completely without mistakes. Rather, their behavior must meet the standard within their community.
Who Should Write an Immigration Reference Letter?
An immigration reference letter writer should be an upstanding person in the community. It is also important to choose a writer whose position makes sense for the purposes of the reference letter. For example, it’s a good idea to ask a manager or employer for a character reference letter in an employment visa case.
What Characteristics Should a Reference Letter Writer Have?
The writer should also be in good standing with the government in the United States. If they are a citizen or have lawful permanent resident status, this is another helpful factor. Examples of potential writers include qualifying family members, employers, managers, or experts in one’s field.
Why Might I Need a Good Moral Character Letter?
Many immigration cases do not require character references. However, an immigration officer is likely to consider a reference letter if you submit it with your application. Other cases specifically require a reference letter about the applicant’s character.
Examples of situations in which someone may need an immigration letter include applications for naturalization, certain USCIS visa applications, and immigration cases in court.
USCIS Immigration Applications and Petitions
Suppose someone is applying for a certain type of United States visa. In that case, they must submit a good reference letter to show proof of their upstanding character before the application can be approved. Visa applications that require an immigration letter include the following.
- Victims of crimes
- Victims of abuse
- Persons who are requesting a waiver of inadmissibility after being unlawfully present in the United States
Lawful Permanent Residents
If a lawful permanent resident (LPR) wishes to apply for naturalization, they must provide proof of their good character during their time as an LPR in the United States. Specifically, an LPR must have a clean record for five years prior to filing this application. This period of time is shortened to three years for LPR spouses of United States citizens.
Cases in Immigration Court
If someone is facing immigration court proceedings, such as deportation or removal, their immigration letter should include reasons why they should not be deported. When an individual requests relief from deportation, they should show evidence of their status as a law-abiding citizen. This will greatly strengthen their case and sway the honorable immigration judge to halt deportation proceedings.
One possible outcome that the immigration judge may opt for instead of deportation is a voluntary return. Rather than being forcibly removed from the United States, individuals could leave of their own volition. This often shortens the amount of time they must wait before returning to the United States.
When Do I Not Need a Character Reference Letter?
Depending on the applicant’s personal situation, they may not need an immigration letter. In fact, these letters could actually hurt someone’s immigration case in certain situations. For example, let’s say that a person wants to apply for asylum in the United States, but fails to do so within a year of their arrival.
If they provided an immigration letter detailing their accomplishments and commitments in the country since their arrival, this could hurt more than help them. In an asylum case, it would be more beneficial to explain the traumas and hardships they have faced as an argument for them to remain in the country.
In short, the necessity of a good moral character letter is dictated by the type of immigration case. It takes significant time and effort to gather resources for one of these letters. We recommend speaking with an immigration attorney before working on such letters. Our team can evaluate your individual case and advise you on whether or not a character reference letter would help your case.
What Could Hinder My Qualification as a Person of Good Moral Character?
Certain aspects of one’s personal history could act as significant barriers to an applicant’s request for citizenship status. Specifically, having a criminal record or having a history of involvement in unsavory activities could hurt their eligibility.
Not all crimes will bar someone from seeking citizenship, but serious crimes could cause significant delays or result in permanent ineligibility. In some cases, they may lead to deportation.
Crimes involving moral turpitude are those that show immorality or corruption in a person. There is no real definition for these crimes, nor is there a codified, exhaustive list. However, we do know that certain serious crimes are considered crimes of moral turpitude. Examples of these crimes are as follows.
- Aggravated felonies
- Violations of the Controlled Substances Act
- Failing to make child support or alimony payments
- Fraud or misrepresentation to obtain an immigration benefit
- Crimes against other human beings with the intent to harm them
- Shoplifting and other theft offenses
- Trafficking others into the United States
To learn more about whether a past criminal conviction could affect your case, contact a criminal immigration lawyer with our firm.
How to Overcome These Obstacles
If an individual has any negative marks on their personal record, it is their responsibility to overcome those obstacles during the immigration process.
Applicants with only minor crimes on their record could consider waiting until after the 5-year statutory period passes before applying. Whether or not they choose to wait, they must also demonstrate that their behavior has improved.
They can demonstrate this in the following ways.
- Character reference letters from employers or places the applicant has volunteered
- Personal statement from the applicant about their family, work, life, and any volunteer activities
- If the applicant is involved in any religious organizations, they can request a letter from that organization that describes the applicant’s importance in the community.
It’s also important to be as honest as possible throughout the application process. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services stresses the importance of honesty during any immigration process. Any perceived fraud or misrepresentation of facts could result in a rejection of the application, and possibly even criminal penalties.
How to Show Good Moral Character in Your Reference Letter
A reference letter for immigration purposes could make or break the approval of someone’s application. Not only should the applicant’s positive actions show their good character, but their lack of negative actions should as well.
Depending on the letter’s purpose and the specific application they are filing, it’s important to specify a certain length of time that the applicant has had good moral character.
In general, five years of good character is sufficient. However, other cases require longer periods. For example, an applicant who has undergone cancellation of removal should show their good character over the past ten years. The best way to determine what facts could help someone’s immigration application is to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer.
How to Write Good Moral Character Letters
Whoever writes a character reference letter for immigration should be well-acquainted with the process before beginning. The letter should be convincing with plenty of evidence and details to support their claim of the applicant’s good character. In the following sections, we outline the basics of writing a good moral character letter for immigration.
Write a Suitable Introduction
The letter should start with a simple introduction. This introduction should include the date on which the letter was written. The writer should give a short synopsis of themselves, as well as their relationship to the applicant. They should also mention how long they have known the applicant.
Detail the Applicant’s Good Moral Character and Conduct
The main body of the letter should focus on the applicant’s character. This section is usually one to two paragraphs long. Provide specific examples of the applicant’s good qualities and moral conduct.
These examples could be about work accomplishments, volunteer activities, community service, or any other positive qualities. It is important for this section to be detailed and convincing, as this is largely what USCIS will use to make their decision.
Mention Family Ties
If the applicant has close family ties in the United States, it is very important to mention this. Familial relationships are very important in the U.S., which is often a driving factor behind applicants seeking citizenship. If the letter writer is close to the applicant, they should describe the applicant’s close bond with their family.
Describe the Relationship Between the Writer and the Applicant
This part is important because it can add a lot of credibility to the letter. When immigration officials read the letter, they should be convinced that the writer and applicant know each other fairly well. The writer’s descriptions of the applicant should paint a clear picture of their good morals and character.
Let’s say the letter is written to support a family member in their immigration case. The writer should provide a clear, detailed description of their family ties with the applicant. Include information about their integrity, familial relationships, and work ethic. The writer should also describe ways in which the family would suffer if the applicant’s petition were not approved.
Write a Conclusion That Further Praises the Applicant
The last part of the letter, the conclusion, is the writer’s last chance to make an impression on immigration officers. They should reiterate the applicant’s eligibility for approval, as well as more positive statements about the applicant. Then, they should thank immigration services for their consideration of the application and state that they are willing to provide more information if needed.
Finally, the writer should include their full name, mailing address, and other contact information. It is not a requirement to have the letter notarized, but it can add a higher level of credibility and verify the writer’s identity.
Do You Need Help With an Immigration Character Reference Letter?
If you are a family member, colleague, or friend of an applicant, our attorneys can help you write a good moral character letter for immigration. We can also do this for applicants who want to write their own letter. Our team will ensure that your letter is detailed, convincing, and eloquent before you submit it to USCIS. Call our firm today at 602-910-4040 to schedule a free consultation about your case.