USCIS recently released a policy announcement which seeks to clarify when taking an extended trip abroad could affect a lawful permanent resident's ability to apply for naturalization.
After obtaining a green card (lawful permanent residence), persons applying for naturalization generally must demonstrate they five years of continuous residence in the United States. If a person has been married to and living with a U.S. citizen spouse he or she can apply for naturalization by demonstrating three years of continuous residence.
However, certain extended trips outside the United States could break the continuous residence required for naturalization. The latest USCIS policy announcement released on February 26, 2020, provides clarification on what qualifies as a break in continuity of residence for naturalization. The announcement explains:
- That naturalization applicants absent from the United States for more than 6 months but less than 1 year must overcome the presumption that the continuity of residence has been broken in order to remain eligible for naturalization.
- An applicant who USCIS determines to have broken the continuity of residence must establish a new period of continuous residence (starts over to count a new period of continuous residence).
In other words, if a permanent resident leaves the United States for longer than six months on any single trip abroad and is unable to overcome the presumption of the break in continuous residence, they must start over and establish a new period of continuous residence.
Six months isn't always the magic number for residence standards though. In some cases, if an applicant for naturalization has multiple absences that are less than six months, an applicant may not have had enough residence in the U.S. to meet the requisite five year time period.
What happens if the immigration officer asks me to “overcome the presumption” that my continuous residence has been broken?
There are a few ways that an applicant may overcome the presumption of a break in the continuity of residence. The USCIS Policy Manual holds the following as evidence that may prove continuous residence:
- The applicant did not terminate his or her employment in the United States or obtain employment while abroad;
- The applicant's immediate family members remained in the United States; and
- The applicant retained full access to or continued to own or lease a home in the United States.
The policy manual notes that the above list of evidence is not exhaustive.
Applications for naturalization may seem like the easy last step in a long immigration journey, but it's important to remember that as a permanent resident there are still eligibility requirements to be aware of. To ensure that you are eligible for naturalization, especially after frequent or extended trips abroad, consult with an experienced immigration attorney.