Friday, January 27, 2012

Options for Naturalization Applicants Who Have Been Outside the United States for One Year or More

To be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship, you must meet several requirements. This article discusses two of those requirements – continuous residence and physical presence – and how being outside the United States for one year or more can delay your ability to meet the requirements for U.S. citizenship.

To apply for U.S. citizenship, you must have your green card and either be married to a U.S. citizen for the past three years or have otherwise been a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) for at least 5 years.

First, you must have resided continuously in the United States for that entire time period (3 or 5 years). A trip outside the United States of one year or more “breaks” continuous residence. Under U.S. immigration laws, you must then wait four years and one day from your return to the United States, following the trip in excess of one year, before you can apply for U.S. Citizenship.

Second, you must be physically present in the United States for at least half of the 5 years (or 3 years if you are basing your application on marriage to a U.S. citizen). For example, if your application is based on having been a green card holder for 5 years, you must have been physically present in the United States for 2.5 years. So it is possible that each and all of your trips may be under one year, but in the aggregate total more than 2.5 years outside the United States.

What can you do? Here are some tips and exceptions.

  1. Wait four years and one day (or 2 years and one day if applying based on 3 years of marriage to a U.S. citizen) following the date of your return to the United States to resume lawful permanent residence.
  2. In certain circumstances, you can file Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes. You must be employed by or under contract with the U.S. government abroad, an American Institution of Research, a U.S. firm or corporation engaged in the development of U.S. foreign trade and commerce, a public international organization of which the U.S. is a member by treaty or statute (and by which the applicant was not employed prior to becoming an LPR), or if you are someone who performs religious duties for a religious organization having a bona fide organization in the U.S.,
  3. Discuss with your attorney if you are an employee of a bona fide U.S. incorporated nonprofit organization which is principally engaged in conducting abroad through communications media the dissemination of information which significantly promotes U.S. interests abroad, and have held such position for the last 5 years while a Lawful Permanent Resident,
  4. Discuss with your attorney if you served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least one year, or you are the spouse or child of a U.S. military member who, during a period of honorable service, died while on active duty.

There are more requirements to apply for U.S. citizenship, including domicile for three months in the jurisdiction where you intend to file your application, good moral character, and your ability to answer U.S. Civics questions and read and write English. USCIS adjudicates naturalization applications thoroughly, including an examination of how the green card was obtained, and legal representation may be essential in your case. The process should not be taken lightly because you could be placed in removal proceedings in the event the application is denied.

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