Whether you are a green card holder, or in the United States on an employment or family based visa, the fact that you are a non-citizen could make you more vulnerable to harsher penalties in the legal system. For example, it is well known in the U.S. that citizens cannot be deported from the country, and will most likely face a fine or jail time for crimes, whereas those who are green card holders, or immigrants of any kind could be put into removal proceedings if a charge is brought against them.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at the “moral turpitude” clause of U.S. immigration law, what it means, and how it applies to visa applicants and non-citizens living in the country.

What is Moral Turpitude?

You can find the definition of moral turpitude in multiple places online. Nolo legal encyclopedia is a good reference for any U.S. immigration law questions, for example. However, we’ll be using the trusted USCIS case definition. The agency states the following:

            “Crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) is a term used in the immigration context that has no statutory definition. Extensive case law, however, has provided    sufficient guidance on whether an offense rises to the level of a CIMT. The courts have held that moral turpitude ‘refers generally to conduct that shocks the public conscience as being inherently base, vile, or depraved, or contrary to the rules of morality and the duties owed between man and man, either one’s fellow man or society    in general” (USCIS, 2021).

The definition brings into question what the rules of morality are, it should be noted, which can shift from time to time, especially with newly appointed Supreme court justices. More conservative justices tend to take a harder-line approach when it comes to morality. 

Having moral turpitude on one’s record

Having a crime of moral turpitude on one’s record can be extremely problematic for non-citizens. Nolo mentions that even just admitting to the crime can block ones future green card or visa application. It can also cause someone who already has a working visa or green card to be removed from the U.S. per INA Section 237a. In addition, the moral turpitude clause can also block a current legal resident from being eligible to file the N-400, Application for Naturalization because it violates the good moral character requirement in that process.

Examples of Morally Wrong Crimes 

  • Spousal abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Fraud (of which there are multiple types to consider)
  • Animal fighting
  • Robbery/theft

There are other more serious examples, too, but for the purpose of U.S. immigration law, many defendants in court end up being undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. illegally, and have knowingly committed some type of fraud along the way in order to remain safe and under the radar. Some of these crimes are considered petty and ultimately not crimes of moral turpitude, so it is important to know the difference.

Recent Case Study

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against an undocumented immigrant who has been living in the U.S. for 25 years, but who had used a fake Social Security card to get a job as a janitor. The defendant was ineligible to then cancel his deportation order because the attorney general involved had no discretion per the order because the crime amounted to moral turpitude.

The case shows that a minor crime can now have major consequences for undocumented immigrants, but also for green card holders and other visa holders residing in the United States.

For the full story, see the following link:


USCIS Crime Immigration