This is the second post in a series on U.S. citizenship or naturalization. In the first post of this series, I discussed the costs of applying for U.S. citizenship if you’re a green card holder; this process is called naturalization. You can read that post here. Also, you must be at least 18 years old.
There are several residence and physical presence requirements to apply for U.S. citizenship. It’s good to prepare your application ahead of time and submit it 90 days before you meet the following requirements.
- Have five years of continuous residence as an LPR immediately before you apply to naturalize, and continue residence from the time you apply until you become a citizen. You only need three years if you’ve been married to and living with your same U.S. citizen spouse for the past 3 years, and your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for the past 3 years;
- Be physically present in the U.S. for half of the five (or three) years. This means you must be physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 (half of 60) months, or for 18 months if your application is based on marriage.
- You must reside in the state or local district where you intend to apply for citizenship for three months.
- The applicant did not terminate his or her employment in the United States;
- The applicant’s immediate family remained in the United States;
- The applicant retained full access to his or her United States abode; or
- The applicant did not obtain employment while abroad.
There are exceptions to the residence and physical presence requirements for people who served or serve in the military, for refugees and asylees, and for people who obtained their lawful permanent residence status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) immigration program.
Continuous residence and physical residence are often confused. Continuous residence can be disrupted, or broken, by a trip outside the U.S. for an extended period of time. You must show that you have continuously maintained your residence in the United States for the five-year period immediately before applying for naturalization. This can be a problem for people who spend long periods of time outside the U.S. Leaving the U.S. for less than 6 months is not a problem. If you leave the U.S. for 6-12 months, you may have a problem. The regulations state in 8 CFR § 316.5(c)(1)(i)
you can provide evidence to prove the following factors which can be taken into account by the government when deciding whether continuous residence was disrupted:
Finally, if you leave for more than 12 months, you automatically disrupt continuous residence and will have to start again, although you will be able to apply after four years and a day after you returned to the U.S.
Be aware that you can also completely lose your Lawful Permanent Resident or green card status by an extended trip abroad if USCIS determines you abandoned your permanent resident status. This sometimes occurs when a foreign national gets a long-awaited green card, enters the U.S., then soon returns to her home country to live or study, and treats the green card more as a visitor visa – not a good idea. More than one person has rudely discovered the problem when he tried to re-enter the U.S. after a long trip abroad and was instead determined to have abandoned his green card.
The bottom line is that it’s a good idea to seek legal advice on the requirements if you’ve taken long or numerous trips outside the U.S. It’s better to get your application right from the start, even if you have to delay it.
The next post, Part 3, will discuss another requirement: “good moral character.” In brief, many issues can prevent you from having “good moral character” and can even lead to deportation, so it’s extremely important to know the law before deciding whether to apply. Some problems include not paying taxes, lying to get immigration benefits or claiming to be a U.S. citizen, helping someone enter the country illegally, avoiding the draft, and committing or even admitting certain crimes.