Naturalization requires a certain amount of time as a U.S. resident. According to 8 U.S.C. §1427, an applicant must live in the United States for five years. The code also says that the person must demonstrate good moral character during this time.
Each case is different, but even an unpaid parking ticket might affect your ability to become a U.S. citizen. See below to learn how a criminal history influences the naturalization process.
Initial background check
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) runs a background check using your name, variations on your name and fingerprints. They check international, state, federal and local records, so if you committed a crime, there is little chance it will go unnoticed. If they find a criminal conviction, the USCIS checks that you paid any fines and finished probation. You cannot become a citizen with any unresolved convictions.
Convictions that prevent naturalization
Some crimes make naturalization impossible. Aggravated felonies and murder prevent any applicant from becoming a U.S. citizen. Aggravated felonies include drug trafficking, $10,000 or more in fraud, gun trafficking and sexual assault.
Convictions that might prevent naturalization
The next class of criminal conviction might lead to deportation. These include most drug and firearm crimes and domestic assault. However, if you demonstrate good moral character for the mandatory five-year period, the court may decide to approve your citizenship. Each case is different, so do not give up on naturalization, even if you have a serious conviction.
Convicted criminals can still become U.S. citizens. The success of their application depends on the nature of the crime and the passage of time.