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.
Understandably, permanent residents may want to continue to maintain ties in their home country 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 can affect eligibility for filing USCIS Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.
The continuous residence and physical presence requirements serve to prove that you have not abandoned your U.S. residence and that you genuinely want to become a citizen. By spending excessive amounts of time abroad, you tip off USCIS that your intentions for U.S. citizenship may be disingenuous. 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 life.
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. before applying 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.
- A trip abroad that is less than 6 months will not disrupt continuous residence.
- A trip 6-12 could likely disrupt continuous residence.
- A trip 12 months or longer will disrupt continuous residence.
An absence between 6 months and 1 year may disrupt the continuity of residence. That’s why many permanent residents with ties in their home country take 1-5 month trips. If you travel for over 6 months (but less than a year) at one time, there’s the possibility of disrupting the continuous residence. However, as long as you prove that you still have employment, residency, immediate family and strong ties in the U.S., you should be fine. Please consult with an immigration attorney before making any trips abroad 6 months or longer. This is not a cumulative requirement; so you can have several trips that combine to more than 6 months. However, it is important not to have a single trip 6 months or longer.
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 continuous residence requirement.
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. before applying 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.
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.
How to Determine Continuous Residence and Physical Presence
Your time as a permanent resident generally begins the day you were granted permanent resident status. More accurately, a person is generally 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. The date can be found on your green card next to “Resident 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 no single trip lasted 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 as described in 8 CFR §316.5(c)(1)(ii). 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.