Continuous Residence and Physical Presence Requirements for Citizenship
The continuous residence and physical presence requirements can be a point of confusion for many green card holders when applying for U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
Continuous Residence Explained
Generally, you must have 5 years of continuous residence in the U.S. to become eligible for naturalized citizenship. However, if you are married to a U.S. citizen, the requirement is 3 years of continuous residence (while married to the U.S. citizen spouse). There's an exception if the spouse is a battered spouse.
Travel outside the United States can disrupt your continuous residence. You should avoid any trips abroad of 6 months or longer.
- A trip abroad that is less than 6 months will not disrupt continuous residence.
- A trip 6-12 will likely disrupt continuous residence.
- A trip 12 months or longer will definitely disrupt continuous residence.
An absence between 6 months and 1 year may disrupt the continuity of residence. That's why many permanent residents limit their individual trips outside the United States to 1-5 months at a time. If you travel for over 6 months (but less than a year) at one time, there's the possibility of disrupting the continuous residence requirement. However, as long as you prove that you still have employment, residency, immediate family and strong ties in the U.S., you should be fine. Please consult with an immigration attorney making any trips abroad 6 months or longer. This is not a cumulative requirement; so you can have several trips that combine to more than 6 months. However, it is important not to have a single trip 6 months or longer.
Physical Presence Explained
Physical presence means that the applicant has been physically present within the United States for a specified period of time over the previous 5 years. Generally, you must have 30 months of physical presence in the U.S. to become eligible for naturalized citizenship. However, if you are married to a U.S. citizen over a 3-year period, the requirement is 18 months of physical presence (while married to the U.S. citizen spouse).