Eligibility for naturalization as a U.S. citizen requires most applicants to meet separate continuous residence and physical presence requirements. Applicants often misunderstand these closely related but unique residency requirements for U.S. citizenship.
Although they are similar, the continuous residence requirement and physical presence requirement are different.
When a USCIS officer reviews your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, he or she will use Part 9 (Time Outside the United States) to help make a determination on eligibility. However, the officer will also notice if you’ve listed a non-U.S. address as a place of residence. Generally, permanent residents should not be living outside the United States.
Continuous Residency Requirement for U.S. Citizenship
Continuous residence means that the applicant has maintained residence within the United States for a specified period of time. Before naturalizing, a typical applicant must have:
- Resided continuously in the U.S. for 5 years before applying; or
- Resided continuously in the U.S. for 3 years in the case of qualified spouses of U.S. citizens.
Generally, this means that you have lived in the United States for the specified number of years without leaving the country for trips of six months or longer. Trips of six months or more will likely disrupt the continuous residence requirement. Immigration law provides exceptions for individuals working abroad in an official capacity for the U.S., such as the U.S. armed forces. In these cases, applicants may be exempt from the residency requirements for U.S. citizenship. Get examples and learn more about continuous residence.
Physical Presence Requirement for Citizenship
Physical presence refers to the number of days the applicant must physically be present in the United States during the statutory period up to the date of filing for naturalization. The continuous residence and physical presence requirements are interrelated, but you will need to satisfy each for naturalization. Immigration law requires applicants to show that they were:
- Physically present in the U.S. for 30 months within the 5-year period before applying; or
- Physically present in the U.S. for 18 months within the 3-year period before applying in the case of qualified spouses of U.S. citizens.
Physical presence is a cumulative requirement; that means each day outside the United States gets added to the total. As mentioned, these residency requirements for U.S. citizenship do not apply if the applicant is applying on the basis of military service. However, if the applicant is applying, for example, as a five-year permanent resident, any service time out of the country does not break the continuous residence and physical presence. It is treated just like time spent in the United States. Get examples and learn more about physical presence.
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