Immigration Topics Explained:

Continuous Residence and Physical Presence Requirements

N-400 Residency Requirements

Are continuous residence and physical presence the same thing?

The continuous residence and physical presence requirements can be a point of confusion for many permanent residents (green card holders) who are applying for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. For permanent residents who have traveled outside the United States, it is important to understand how their absences affect eligibility for filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

The continuous residence requirement and physical presence requirement are separate and unique criteria, both both 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.

If you would an easier way to determine if you meet these requirements, see how CitizenPath can help.

Continuous Residence Explained

What is the continuous residence requirement and how does it affect Form N-400?

Continuous residence means that an applicant has maintained residence within the United States for a specified period of time. Generally, naturalization applicant must have resided continuously in the U.S. for at least 5 years prior to filing the naturalization application and up to the time of naturalization. There's a shortened 3-year requirement for permanent residents who are married to a U.S. citizen.

Short trips abroad typically do not disrupt continuous the residence requirement, but long absences will. 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.

As a general rule, permanent residents should avoid any trips abroad of 6 months or longer. 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. There are exceptions for certain individuals.

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; and
  • 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. A reentry permit can facilitate your admission at a port of entry after an absence of less than two years, but it does not preserve your 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.

Four Years and One Day Rule

If you have a break in your continuity of residence, it's not always necessary to accrue another 5 years of continuous residence before applying for naturalization. An applicant who is required to establish continuous residence for at least 5 years may apply for naturalization 4 years and 1 day after returning to the United States to resume permanent residence. An applicant who is subject to the 3-year continuous residence requirement may apply 2 years and 1 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 4 years and 6 months after returning from a trip abroad of more than 1 year.

Physical Presence Explained

What is physical presence and how does it affect Form N-400?

Physical presence means that the applicant has been physically present in 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. to be eligible for naturalized citizenship. However, this requirement is reduced to 18 months of physical presence if you are filing Form N-400 based on the provision marriage to a U.S. citizen. The physical presence requirement is set at half of the continuous residence period.

Physical presence is a cumulative requirement; so you must combine each day that you were outside the United States. For example, an individual who made a 30-day trip and five 1-day trips would have been absent for a total of 35 days. Similarly, a person who makes many short trips abroad will eventually risk ineligibility for naturalization when the sum of the days approaches half of the required continuous residence period.

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 exceptions for certain individuals.

How to Determine Continuous Residence and Physical Presence

How do I know my residency period?

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.”

Resident Since date on permanent resident card is used to determine if you meet the continuous residence requirement
Resident Since date on permanent resident card is used to determine if you meet the continuous residence requirement

For the purposes of adjudicating your application for naturalization, the USCIS officer will evaluate your most recent period of continuous residence. In other words, they will review the most recent 5-year period for the standard applicant. For individuals applying on the modified 3-year basis while married to a U.S. citizen, USCIS will evaluate the most recent 3-year period.

Examples of Continuous Residence and Physical Presence

How do I avoid RFEs?

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

Do residency requirements apply to all N-400 applicants?

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 these residency requirements. 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;
  • You are an employee or an individual under contract to the U.S. government (including the U.S. military);
  • 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;
    • 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. Review the USCIS Policy Manual for more information about the modifications and exceptions to continuous residence and physical presence.

Form N-400, Application for Naturalization

Use Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) to apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Each year, USCIS rejects or denies thousands of N-400 applications based on not meeting residency requirements or failing to document them. Therefore, it's important to get it right.

last year
N-400 applications were filed*
out of these
got rejected*
and another
got denied*

How CitizenPath Helps You Meet the Residency Requirements

Do you have a residency calculator?

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