Much of the immigration process is relatively clear and straightforward. You need to have grounds to request a visa, whether you want to visit the United States as a student, a tourist or a worker. Additionally, you need to pass a thorough background check.

The federal government will likely look into any criminal record you have, including allegations or charges in your home country and in the United States. Not all criminal charges disqualify someone from securing a visa or status as a naturalized citizen. Certain offenses, including crimes involving moral turpitude, could directly impact the immigration process.

However, defining what constitutes a crime of moral turpitude can prove confusing or difficult for immigrants, as well as for those who are already citizens of the United States. If you have any kind of criminal record or have faced charges as an immigrant with a visa, you may worry if those allegations against you will impact your chances of successfully immigrating.

How does the federal government define moral turpitude?

The terminology is intentionally vague to allow immigration officials more interpretive authority and discretion when deciding what steps to take in an immigration case. This is particularly important when you consider how many people plead to lesser offenses to avoid trial, which would make a list of specific convictions less effective at preventing the immigration of potentially dangerous criminals.

Although crimes involving moral turpitude is a relatively vague standard, there are certain key factors that can influence whether an offense involves moral turpitude. An offense that fits into this category will be a crime that goes against the standard of ethics or morals in the United States. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service refers to moral turpitude in its own policy manual as a crime that shocks people and is inherently depraved.

Some dictionaries refer to it as a violation of the standard of basic decency that humans owe to one another. Others refer to crimes of moral turpitude as offenses that the average American would instantly recognize as morally repugnant. Pleading guilty to habitual violations of parking laws in a specific municipality is probably not a crime of moral turpitude, but stealing from a charity, on the other hand, would likely meet the definition of moral turpitude.

A conviction isn’t always necessary in moral turpitude cases

Individuals who have never wound up convicted for a crime may believe they don’t have to worry about moral turpitude and its definition. However, admitting to having committed an act that others view as morally repugnant for a violation of basic social contracts could be sufficient reason to deny your application for immigration.

Even if it was not a crime or did not result in a criminal conviction in your home country, your previous actions could influence your chances of immigration. A careful review of your legal background and discussion of any potential issues involving moral turpitude with an immigration attorney is an essential step.