How to Write a Character Reference Letter for Immigration

By Mary Jane Freeman - Updated March 24, 2017
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When an immigrant applies for United States citizenship, one of the requirements is good moral character. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines good moral character as that which "measures up to the standards of average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides." Since the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines good moral character on a case-by-case basis, submitting character references can help bolster an applicant's chances for citizenship. Character references can also be submitted for an immigrant facing removal proceedings.

Proper Introductions

It's not enough to simply write a letter. The character reference must be strong, which means it must include certain details. First, it must include basic information about you and establish the relationship you have with the applicant. Start the letter with the salutation, "To Whom it May Concern." In the first paragraph, introduce yourself by providing your name and your immigration status. Indicate how you know the applicant, providing specific dates and locations. If you hold a senior or respected position in the military, business or community, be sure to include this information.

The Character Issue

The body is the heart of the letter. Beginning with the second paragraph, provide specific examples of the applicant's good character. First, identify a good character trait the applicant possesses, such as a willingness to help persons less fortunate. Second, immediately back up that assessment by providing specific examples of past or current events, like his or her volunteer work at the local homeless shelter, and include dates and locations. You can also relay stories of how the applicant helped friends and neighbors or cares for his or her family. If denial of the applicant's petition would result in significant hardship, such as emotional or financial turmoil, you can also discuss this in the letter.

Other Areas for Discussion

Depending on the circumstances, you may wish to also address the applicant's relationship with family. Perhaps this is because family ties in the U.S. are one of the reasons he or she is seeking to become a citizen. If you are familiar with the strength of his or her relationship with a spouse or children, for example, you can describe the strong bond between them. Provide examples, including dates, locations and names. To provide credibility, be sure to describe your frequent or longtime contact with the parties. If you are a current or former employer of the applicant, provide additional employment background about him or her, such as when and where he or she worked for you and his job title and duties at the time. Provide specific examples that reveal and reflect positively on his or her ethic, trustworthiness and skills.

In Conclusion

Conclude the letter with a final and genuine compliment about the applicant and encourage the reader to contact you if more information is needed. Underneath your signature, include your contact information, such as mailing address, phone and email. The letter may be handwritten or typed and up to two pages in length. Although not required, it is helpful to also have the letter notarized since this confirms your identity and signature.

About the Author

Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.

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