Continuous Residence and Physical Presence Requirements

The continuous residence and physical presence requirements can be a point of confusion for many permanent residents (green card holders) when applying for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. If you would an easier way to determine if you meet this requirements, see how CitizenPath can help.

Understandably, permanent residents may want to visit family and friends in their home countries by traveling for extended periods and returning to the United States. For these permanent residents, it is important to understand how long absences from the United States or even frequent trips abroad can affect eligibility for filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

The continuous residence and physical presence requirements serve to support your attachment to the United States. By spending too much time abroad, you signal to USCIS that you may not be fully committed to permanent residence in the United States and also may not be eligible for U.S. citizenship. The requirements are in place to help ensure that the U.S. is accepting citizens that want to fully integrate and become a part of American society.

Continuous Residence Explained

Continuous residence means that the applicant has maintained residence within the United States for a specified period of time. Generally, you must have 5 years of continuous residence in the U.S. to become eligible for naturalized citizenship. However, if you are married to a U.S. citizen, the requirement is 3 years of continuous residence (while married to the U.S. citizen spouse). There’s an exception if the spouse is a battered spouse.

Travel outside the United States can disrupt your continuous residence. You should avoid any trips abroad of 6 months or longer. For the purposes of naturalization:

  • A trip abroad that is less than 6 months will not disrupt continuous residence.
  • A trip of more than 6 months but less than one year is presumed to break your continuous residence.
  • A trip 12 months or longer will definitely break your continuous residence.

An absence between 6 months and one year is presumed to disrupt the continuity of residence. That’s why many permanent residents limit their individual trips outside the United States to 1-5 months at a time. If you travel for over 6 months (but less than a year) at one time, USCIS will automatically presume that you've broken your continuous residence requirement for the purposes of naturalization.

Overcoming a Presumption That You Disrupted Continuous Residency

It is possible to overcome this presumption and successfully apply for naturalization. However, it's a high bar. You will need to provide evidence to establish that you did not disrupt your residence and continued to maintain strong ties in the United States. According to USCIS, the evidence may include, but is not limited to, documentation that during the absence:

  • You did not terminate your employment in the United States or obtain employment while abroad.
  • Your immediate family remained in the United States.
  • You retained full access to your United States abode.

If you have an absence of greater than six months and want to apply for naturalization, consult with an immigration lawyer first. A legal professional can properly analyze your specific situation and advise you how to proceed.

Absence of One Year or More

An absence from the United States for a continuous period of one year or more (365 days or more) during the period for which continuous residence is required will break the continuity of residence. This applies whether the absence takes place prior to or after filing the naturalization application. Generally, this is true even if you have a reentry permit. The reentry permit may allow you to reenter the U.S. as a permanent resident after an absence of one year, but none of the time you were in the United States before you left the country counts towards your time in continuous residence. Assuming your absence was less than two years, the last 364 days of your time out of the country counts toward the continuous residence requirement. See the "Four Years and One Day Rule" below.

When applying on the basis of qualifying military service, there is no continuous residence requirement. And when working for certain qualifying employers time spent abroad can count toward the requirement. See the exceptions to residency requirements below.

Four Years and One Day Rule

If you have a break in your continuity of residence, it's not always necessary to accrue another five years of continuous residence before applying for naturalization. An applicant who is required to establish continuous residence for at least five years and whose application for naturalization is denied for an absence of one year or longer, may apply for naturalization four years and one day after returning to the United States to resume permanent residence. An applicant who is subject to the three-year continuous residence requirement may apply two years and one day after returning to the United States to resume permanent residence. This is known as the “four years and one day” rule and is described in 8 CFR §316.5(c)(1)(ii). In order to use this rule, however, one must also overcome the presumption of a break in the continuity of residence. Therefore, many attorneys prefer their clients wait four years and six months after returning from a trip abroad of more than one year.

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Physical Presence Explained

Physical presence means that the applicant has been physically present within the United States for a specified period of time over the previous 5 years. Generally, you must be have 30 months of physical presence in the U.S. you become eligible for naturalized citizenship. However, if you are married to a U.S. citizen over a 3-year period, the requirement is 18 months of physical presence (while married to the U.S. citizen spouse).

Physical presence is a cumulative requirement; so you must combine each day that you were outside the United States. If you have been absent from the U.S. too long, you won't be eligible to naturalize. To resolve this problem, remain in the United States. After a few months months, recalculate your time outside the U.S.

There are special provisions in the law that exempt members of the U.S. armed forces, certain business travelers, religious workers, government employees, and researchers for a U.S. research agency, from the physical presence requirement. Review the USCIS Policy Manual for more information about the physical presence requirement.

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How to Determine Continuous Residence and Physical Presence

Your time as a permanent resident generally begins the day that the U.S. government grants you permanent resident status. More accurately, a person is considered to be a permanent resident at the time USCIS approves the applicant’s adjustment application or at the time the applicant enters and is admitted into the United States with an immigrant visa. You can find the date on your green card next to “Resident Since.”
physical presence since resident since date
green card continuous residence since
However, for certain classifications the effective date of becoming a permanent resident may be a date that is earlier than the actual approval of the status (commonly referred to as a “rollback” date). For example, a person admitted under the Cuban Adjustment Act is generally a permanent resident as of the date of the person’s last arrival and admission into the United States or 30 months before the filing of the adjustment application, whichever is later. A refugee is generally considered an permanent resident as of the date of entry into the United States. A parolee granted adjustment of status pursuant to the Lautenberg Amendment is considered a permanent resident as of the date of parole into the United States. In addition, USCIS generally considers an asylee’s date of admission as a permanent resident to be one year prior to the date of approval of the adjustment application.

Examples of Continuous Residence and Physical Presence

Example 1: Maria
  • Jan 1, 2000 – Maria becomes a permanent resident through family.
  • Jan 1, 2000 to Jan 1, 2005 – Maria makes 13 trips to Mexico of 1 month each. (So each trip was less than 6 months, but her cumulative trips total 1 year and 1 month).
  • Maria meets the continuous residence and physical presence requirements on Jan 1, 2005.
  • Maria can apply for naturalization on October 1, 2004; that’s 90 days before Jan 1, 2005. The 13 different 1-month trips did not disrupt her continuous residence because none of those trips lasted 6 month or more.
Example 2: Edward
  • Jan 1, 2000 – Edward becomes a permanent resident through employment.
  • Jan 1, 2001 to Jan 2, 2002 – Edward took a 1-year vacation to the Philippines and came back with a reentry permit. He took no other trips abroad.
  • Jan 1, 2005 – Though it’s been 5 years since Edward became a green card holder, his vacation from Jan 1, 2001 to Jan 2, 2002 disrupted the continuous residence requirement because the trip was over a year. Thus, the clock started again on Jan 3, 2002.
  • Jan 3, 2006 – Edward is eligible to apply for naturalization under the “four years and one day” rule. He can file Form N-400 four years and one day after returning to the U.S.
Example 3: Miriam
  • Jan 1, 2000 – Miriam becomes a permanent resident through marriage to a U.S. citizen.
  • Jan 1, 2000 to Jan 1, 2003 – Miriam travels to England 4 times on 1-month trips to see her family. She maintains her residence in the U.S. and continues to stay married to the same U.S. citizen husband. Her combined time outside the U.S. was about 120 days (4 months). She takes no other trips abroad.
  • As a permanent resident married to a U.S. citizen, Miriam may apply for naturalization after just three years. So on October 1, 2002 (90 days before Jan 1, 2003), she can file Form N-400. The 4 different 1-month trips did not disrupt her continuous residence because none of those trips lasted 6 month or more.

Exceptions to the Residency Requirements

There are provisions for certain types of employment that will not break the continuous residence requirement and generally do not count against the physical presence requirement. You may be able to count your time abroad just like time spent in the United States if you were engaged in one of the following types of employment:

  • You served on a vessel operated by the United States or vessel registered in the U.S. and owned by U.S. citizens or a U.S. corporation; or
  • You are an employee or an individual under contract to the U.S. government (including the U.S. military); or
  • You are a person who performs ministerial or priestly functions for a religious denomination or an interdenominational organization with a valid presence in the United States; or
  • You are employed by one of the following:
    • An American institution of research recognized by the Attorney General; or
    • An American-owned firm or corporation engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce for the United States; or
    • A public international organization of which the United States is a Member by law or treaty (if the employment began after you became a permanent resident).

You may keep your continuous residence if you have had at least 1 year of unbroken continuous residence since becoming a permanent resident and obtain an approved Form N-470 (Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes) at the time of filing the N-400 application.

How CitizenPath Helps You Meet the Residency Requirements

CitizenPath's self-directed service makes preparing USCIS forms easy. Designed by lawyers, our platform will help you eliminate the common errors that create delays, rejections and even denials. The low-cost service also provides alerts if you answer a question in a way that might be a problem. We'll make sure you meet continuous residence and physical presence requirements before filing. Most people can prepare the naturalization package within a couple of hours.

The online service is a powerful, do-it-yourself tool that puts you in control. And we've got your back -- CitizenPath provides live customer support and guarantees that USCIS will approve your application.