In order to maintain their lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in the United States, green card holders are required to fulfill certain criteria, including continuous residence and the physical presence requirements. While these requirements play a crucial role in the naturalization process – the procedure of applying for and obtaining U.S. citizenship – a green card holder’s adherence to permanent residence requirements can be scrutinized at any point. For instance, if a green card holder spends an extended period outside the U.S., they may be questioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon re-entry, and their entire permanent resident status could potentially be challenged.
Meeting these conditions is crucial in order to avoid jeopardizing your green card status and to be eligible for naturalization (U.S. citizenship) later on.
Continuous residence means that you must maintain your primary residence in the United States. It is important to avoid long or frequent absences, as they may disrupt the continuity of your residence. Generally, a continuous absence of more than six months may break the continuous residence requirement. In some cases, you may be able to preserve your continuous residence if you obtain a re-entry permit before leaving the U.S. or if you can demonstrate that your extended absence was not intended to abandon your U.S. residence. If you are looking to file for a re-entry permit, we can help! Contact our office here.
An applicant for naturalization under the general provision must have resided continuously in the United States after his or her lawful permanent resident (LPR) admission for at least 5 years prior to filing the naturalization application and up to the time of naturalization.
An applicant for naturalization through marriage to a U.S. citizen must have resided continuously for 3 years.
An applicant for naturalization has the burden of establishing that he or she has complied with the continuous residence requirement, if applicable. Generally, there are two ways outlined in the statute in which the continuity of residence can be broken:
- The applicant is absent from the United States for more than 6 months but less than 1 year; or
- The applicant is absent from the United States for 1 year or more.
An officer may also review whether an applicant with multiple absences of less than 6 months each will be able to satisfy the continuous residence requirement. In some of these cases, an applicant may not be able to establish that his or her principal actual dwelling place is in the United States or establish residence within the United States for the statutorily required period of time.
An LPR’s lengthy or frequent absences from the U.S. can also result in a denial of naturalization due to abandonment of permanent residence.USCIS Policy Manual, April 2023
Absences from the United States for less than 6 months do not count as a break in the continuous residence requirement. Absences for more than 6 months do count as a break but can be rebutted by providing evidence to establish that the applicant did not disrupt continuity in residence. Such evidence usually includes ties to the U.S., and may include lack of ties abroad.
An absence of more than 6 months (more than 180 days) but less than 1 year (less than 365 days) during the period for which continuous residence is required (also called “the statutory period”) is presumed to break the continuity of such residence. This includes any absence that takes place during the statutory period before the applicant files the naturalization application and any absence between the filing of the application and the applicant’s admission to citizenship.
An applicant’s intent is not relevant in determining the location of his or her residence. The length of the period of absence from the United States is the defining factor in determining whether the applicant is presumed to have disrupted the continuity of his or her residence.
However, an applicant may overcome the presumption of a break in the continuity of residence by providing evidence to establish that the applicant did not disrupt the continuity of his or her residence. Such evidence may include, but is not limited to, documentation that during the absence:
- 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
USCIS Policy Manual, April 2023
- The applicant retained full access to or continued to own or lease a home in the United States.
Eligibility After Break in Residence
An applicant who USCIS determines to have broken the continuity of residence must establish a new period of continuous residence in order to become eligible for naturalization.
This means that if the requirement of continuous residence has been broken and cannot be rebutted, the applicant must start the waiting period for their naturalization application from scratch.
Physical presence refers to the actual time you spend in the United States. To maintain your green card status, you must be physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the required continuous residence period.
For naturalization purposes, you generally need to be physically present in the country for at least 30 months within the five years immediately preceding your application 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 each must be satisfied for naturalization.USCIS Policy Manual
How physical presence is counted:
As of time of writing, USCIS will count the day that an applicant departs from the United States and the day he or she returns as days of physical presence within the United States for naturalization purposes.
If physical presence comes under question, USCIS may ask applicants to provide detailed documentation of their presence in the U.S.
Mere possession of a Permanent Resident Card (PRC) for the period of time required for physical presence does not in itself establish the applicant’s physical presence for naturalization purposes. The applicant must demonstrate actual physical presence in the United States through documentation. USCIS will review all of the relevant records to assist with the determination of whether the applicant has met the required period of physical presence. The applicant’s testimony will also be considered in determining whether the applicant met the required period of physical presenceUSCIS Policy Manual, April 2023
Intent to Reside Permanently
As a green card holder, you must demonstrate your intent to reside permanently in the United States. This may come into question if you demonstrate long absences from and lack of ties to the US.
If you spend significant time outside the U.S., immigration authorities may question your intent to reside permanently in the country, and you could risk losing your green card.
Maintaining your green card status and adhering to the requirements of continuous residence and physical presence are crucial for lawful permanent residents. Navigating these requirements can sometimes be complex but is essential to avoid jeopardizing your status or facing issues during the naturalization process.
If you have any questions about your green card status or the requirements discussed in this article, we encourage you to contact our legal office. Our experienced team can provide valuable guidance tailored to your specific situation.