When applying for naturalization, there are numerous requirements an applicant must satisfy. Some of these requirements are: the applicant must be at least 18 years old, must continuously reside in the US for at least 5 years after obtaining a green card (or 3 years if the green card was obtained through marriage), must be physically present in the United States for 30 months (for the 5 year period before applying) or for 18 months (for the 3 year period before applying), must be a person of good moral character, must pass the civics exam, and finally, must take the oath.
Although the civics test is the one requirement that usually receives the most attention, some other requirements, no less important, cause confusion during the application process. This article focuses specifically on the “continuous presence” requirement. For the explanation of the “physical presence” requirement, please click here.
What is continuous residence?
Continuous residence means that at the time of applying for citizenship, you have resided in the United States for a specific period of time, either 5 years after obtaining a green card or 3 years if the green card was obtained through marriage.
However, traveling outside of the United States for a long period of time can disrupt your continuous residence requirement. Specifically, any travel outside of the United States that lasts 12 months or longer will break your continuous residence. Such travel will automatically raise the presumption that you have disrupted your continuous residence requirement for the purposes of naturalization and your naturalization application will be denied.
There are exceptions to this rule for the members of the U.S. armed forces, government employees, religious workers, recognized researchers for the American Institute of Research, and certain business travelers.
A trip outside of the United States that is less than 6 months does not disrupt the continuous residence requirement. However, please be aware that the USCIS is aware of the games some people play with taking numerous trips abroad that all last less than 6 months. For example, an individual leaves the country for 5.5 months, returns to the United States for 15 or 20 days and then leaves again for another 5.5 months. Such trips, although all under 6 months, may raise the suspicion of that individual’s wrong intent, making the application process that much more difficult and time consuming.
The grey area falls when a trip is over 6 months but less than 1 year. In such a case, there is a presumption that such a trip disrupted the continuous residence requirement. However, it is possible to overcome such a presumption and apply for naturalization by presenting specific evidence demonstrating that you have satisfied the continuous residence requirement.
In summary, a trip outside of the United States that lasts less than 6 months will not disrupt the continuous residence requirement when applying for citizenship. A trip outside of the United States that lasts more than 12 months will disrupt the continuous residence requirement and your citizenship application will be denied. Finally, a trip outside of the United States that lasts more than 6 months but less than 12 months raises a rebuttable presumption of disruption of the continuous residence requirement.
For more information about the continuous residence requirement please refer to the USCIS official website or contact our office.