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Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

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  • Writer's pictureParviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

How long Can U.S. Green Card Holders Stay Outside of the USA & Still Qualify for Naturalization?

Updated: Apr 8

Once you pass 6 months consecutively outside of the United States, things get harder

Many U.S. green card holders are left wondering: how long can I stay out of the US without jeopardizing my U.S. naturalization eligibility down the line? The answer lies in two main factors: "physical presence" and "continuous residence."

Article Outline:

The short answer is YES, there are actions you can take ahead of a long trip abroad that can increase, but not guarantee, your chances of showing you maintained physical presence when you’re ready to apply for U.S. naturalization.

Note: this article focuses ONLY a lengthy absence's effect on U.S. naturalization eligibility. The analysis of an absence's potential to jeopardize a green card is a little different.

Before we discuss how, we need to explain a couple important concepts first.

Understanding the Physical Presence Requirement

The rule of the physical presence requirement is this: to become a naturalized citizen, green card holders must have spent more days in the U.S. than out of it within three or five years prior (the “statutory period.”). Physical presence in the United States is measured by the day. Any part of one day, even fewer than 12 hours counts as a day of physical presence in the United States.

The statutory period for most naturalization applicants is 5 years, which means that the applicant must have spent at least 913 days within the United States during the five years immediately before submitting a naturalization application. That’s because (365 days x 5 years) = 1825 days. You must have spent more than half of those 1825 days in the U.S. (1825/2)= 912.5. You’d need 913 days in the U.S. during that statutory period.

For applicants married to U.S. citizens, the statutory period is 3 years, and they must have spent at least 548 days in the U.S. during that period.

Unfortunately, this physical presence requirement gets mixed up with “continuous residence” which is a related, but quite separate concept.

Exploring the Continuous Residence Test

Continuous residence” is showing that you treat the U.S. as your home. Continuous residence is also a requirement for U.S. naturalization. You must show that you kept your residence in the US during the five/three-year duration (depending on the statutory period, as mentioned above) before submitting your application for naturalization.

Now, if you've been out of the country for more than six months but less than one year, then it's assumed you're no longer a permanent resident. But that assumption can be “rebutted” (meaning you can overturn it) with a strong showing by the applicant.

An absence of one year or more during the statutory period creates an irrebuttable presumption of having broken continuous residence, unless the applicant qualified for and filed an N-470.

Note, filing an I-131 re-entry permit does not preserve continuous residence for a naturalization application. An I-131 re-entry permit serves to preserve the applicant’s legal permanent residence (i.e. green card).

Proving Non-Abandonment of Residence

Keeping access to your home in the U.S. is a powerful piece of evidence that you didn't abandon continuous residence

To prove that they did not abandon their residence in the United States during an absence of over six months but less than a year, green card holders can provide evidence in the following ways:

  1. Continued Employment: Demonstrating that the applicant did not terminate their employment in the United States or obtain employment while abroad.

  2. Presence of Immediate Family: Showing that the applicant's immediate family members remained in the United States.

  3. Access to U.S. Abode: Establishing that the applicant retained full access to their U.S. residence.

While these three pieces of evidence can help demonstrate non-abandonment of residence, there are also other supporting documents that can be used. For example, maintaining one's abode and filing income taxes during the absence can significantly strengthen the case.

Absences of a Year or More and the Four-Year and One-Day Rule

If you're a green card holder and you've been on a lengthy vacation outside the U.S. for more than 12 months, you won't be able to meet the naturalization requirements. This is where the old "four-year and one-day rule" comes in handy - basically, after you come back home, you have to wait four long years plus one extra day before you can apply for the whole naturalization thing.

Tips for Green Card Holders Planning Long Absences

If you're a green card holder contemplating a prolonged absence from the U.S. (anything over six months), it's probably best to ask an immigration lawyer for help. To make sure your continuous residence is maintained, there are several things you can do:

  1. Maintain Abode: Ensure the U.S. residence is maintained and available during the entire period of absence.

  2. Sustain Employment: If possible, maintain employment in the United States to demonstrate ties and intentions to return.

  3. Pay Income Taxes: Continue filing income tax returns to exhibit continued ties and responsibilities to the United States.

There are other smaller steps you can take, that cumulatively can help show you preserved continuous residence:

  • Maintain health and/or life insurance in the U.S.

  • Maintain your vehicle registration and insurance in the U.S.

  • Maintain and use your U.S. bank accounts, and credit cards

  • Maintain your U.S. cell phone

  • Maintain paid membership in affinity or professional organizations based in the U.S.

  • Any other action that can be used as evidence to argue one didn’t break continuous residence

Taking these actions are not guaranteed to preserve your continuous residence, but they can potentially help.

Video Explainer

Request Consultation With Malakouti Law

At Malakouti Law, we’ve helped a number of clients successfully naturalize, even with continuous absences of seven, eight, nine, or even eleven months in the statutory period before filing their application.

Request a consultation here with Malakouti Law to get a straight-shooting, expert opinion on your case.

Each immigration and citizenship case is particular and you should consult with a qualified immigration and citizenship lawyer about your case before taking any steps. The Law Office of Parviz Malakouti does not guarantee the accuracy of information presented nor assume responsibility for actions taken in reliance of this information. The information in this page could become outdated. Attorney marketing.

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