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Continuous Residence: Can I Still Travel Abroad?

Understanding the complex rules of immigration laws can be challenging. These challenges apply in particular to immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Naturalization offers citizenship to eligible foreign nationals after meeting specific requirements. Among these requirements is continuous residence. But traveling overseas may affect your application. Thus, understanding the rules about traveling abroad is crucial.

What Is Naturalization?

Naturalization grants U.S. citizenship to foreign citizens through a specific process. An applicant can obtain citizen status after meeting all naturalization requirements under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The application process starts by filing Form N-400, called the Application for Naturalization.

One conditional requirement is the proof of "continuous residency." The residency period is often five years for foreign nationals. But if the applicant is a qualified spouse of a U.S. citizen, the residency need only last three years.

Title 8, Section 316.5 of the U.S. Code defines "continuously resided." It refers to the foreign national's domicile or principal actual dwelling place. This definition emphasizes physical presence over any intent to reside in a particular location. Thus, what matters is where the applicant physically lives.

Although the U.S. citizen applicant may still travel out of the U.S., the period of time out of the country may affect the application process.

How Is the Continuous US Residence Period Calculated?

The continuous U.S. residence period starts upon issuance of a green card. As reflected on the card, the issue date marks the start of an immigrant's Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status. The status is then maintained until the green card is forfeited. Forfeiture often occurs due to criminal acts or acts that suggest residency abandonment.

Immigration officers verify residency based on the data gathered during biometrics appointments. Other documents, such as bank accounts, billing statements, or driver's licenses, can also prove residency.

The continuous residence starts on the day the U.S. government issues the green card. This status continues until forfeiture of the green card due to actions that show abandonment of residency. The government may also forfeit the residency status due to the commission of criminal activities.

A permanent resident abandons LPR status through any of the following means:

  • Moving to another country with the intent to live there permanently
  • Traveling abroad for more than six months without providing evidence that the applicant still lives in the U.S.
  • Traveling abroad for more than one year without obtaining a reentry permit or returning resident visa
  • Voluntarily claiming a nonresident alien status to qualify for special exemptions from income tax liability
  • Failing to file a tax return because the applicant considers themself a nonresident alien

What Are the Exceptions to the Continuous Residence Requirement?

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, there are exceptions to the continuous residence requirement for applicants who work abroad for:

  • The U.S. government
  • The U.S. armed forces
  • Contractors of the U.S. government
  • A recognized American institute of research
  • A public international organization
  • An organization designated under the International Immunities Act

To qualify for this exception, applicants must meet the following continuous residence requirements:

  • Be physically present in the U.S. as an LPR for an uninterrupted period of time of at least one year before working abroad
  • File Form N-470, called the Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes, before going abroad for a continuous period of more than one year

In addition, those working with the U.S. embassy may also obtain a waiver for some of these requirements.

But what about the applicant's spouse and children? An exempt applicant's spouse and dependent unmarried children are exempt from the continuous residence requirement. This often applies while they're living abroad with the applicant. But spouses and dependent children may still violate the residency requirement. Certain conditions may also affect each case. Due to these varying rules, it is best to seek legal advice from an immigration attorney. They can answer your questions and give guidance tailored to your case.

Can I Travel Outside the US While Applying for Citizenship?

Yes. Green card holders or permanent residents of the U.S. may still take a vacation overseas. However, you must ensure you are familiar with the rules about the duration and nature of your trip. Staying informed is helpful to avoid jeopardizing your U.S. citizenship application.

Traveling Abroad

Traveling outside the U.S. with permanent resident status is possible. However, there are limitations to traveling and reentry. For a U.S. citizenship application, two types of trips could disrupt your permanent resident status. The following types of trips overseas could affect your citizenship application:

Short-Term Travel (6 Months to 1 Year)

Traveling overseas for 181 to 364 days can affect your permanent resident status. To boot, this absence can automatically jeopardize your immigrant visa status. An applicant can overcome the presumed loss of their continuous residence by showing that their residence wasn't disturbed. The applicant can do so by showing that during the absence, all of the following remained true:

  • The applicant didn't terminate their employment in the U.S. or obtain employment while abroad.
  • The applicant's immediate family remained in the U.S.
  • The applicant retained full access to their residence in the U.S. while abroad.

Extended Travel (More Than 1 Year)

Extended travel means staying out of the U.S. for 365 days or longer. If an applicant for naturalization leaves the U.S. for more than a year, their application will be denied unless they qualify for an exception.

If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines an applicant has abandoned their lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, trips abroad — even those shorter than a year — might be proof of that abandonment.

Tips for Traveling Outside the US as a Green Card Holder

Traveling outside the U.S. while holding LPR status or processing your U.S. citizenship is tricky. Thus, knowing a few tips before planning your next trip is helpful. Here are some helpful guidelines for traveling outside the U.S. as a legal permanent resident or a green card holder:

Documentation

Keep essential travel documents with you when you travel. This includes your permanent residence card, passport, and other immigration-related documents.

Reentry Permits

If you plan to travel for an extended stay, it is best to secure a reentry permit.

Customs and Port of Entry

It is best to stay updated about the processes and documentation that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) might require upon reentering the country. You can show proof of your residency in the U.S. and the purpose of your trip.

Stay Updated

When traveling from and to the U.S., it is always best to have the newest information possible. Be informed of the updated travel guidelines, and always bring proof of residency in the United States.

Talk to an Immigration Lawyer

Navigating the complexities of immigration law can be overwhelming. The stress heightens when you process an adjustment of status or acquire U.S. citizenship through naturalization.

If you or your family members are looking at processing a naturalization application, it is best to seek legal advice from an immigration attorney. An immigration law attorney can give advice that directly relates to your case. They can assess the eligibility requirements and physical presence requirements of the applicant. They can also assist foreign nationals in securing U.S. visas, whether immigrant or nonimmigrant.

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