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Demonstrating “continuous presence” for your N-400


You must have continuously lived in the United States as a green card holder for at least five years (or at least three years if you’re married to a U.S. citizen). “Continuously” means you did not take any trips outside of the United States that each lasted six months or longer during the 3–5 years you’re required to have a green card (plus the extra period while USCIS processes your U.S. citizenship application). In other words, you’re allowed to leave the United States — just make sure to return within six months every time.


IMPORTANT: If you leave the United States for more than six months as a green card holder, USCIS will presume that you abandoned your permanent residence in the United States, and they’ll deny your U.S. citizenship application.


There are ways to overcome that presumption even if you do take an extended trip abroad. The chance of success, however, depends on a few factors:

How long you stayed outside the United States

  • How compelling your reason was for not coming back sooner

  • The discretion of the USCIS officer evaluating your application (officers can still deny your application based on other reasons, including if you took frequent trips abroad)

  • Those applying for naturalization based on a certain period or type of military service do not need to meet this “continuous presence” requirement. See this eligibility chart to learn when certain military service members can apply for naturalization.

You may submit your naturalization application as early as 90 days before you actually finish waiting the required three or five years. Our guide to Form N-400 has more details.


You may submit your naturalization application as early as 90 days before you actually finish waiting the required three or five years. Our guide to Form N-400 has more details.


IF YOU STAYED ABROAD FOR 181 TO 364 DAYS

To avoid being denied citizenship, you’ll need to convince the USCIS officer evaluating your application that you didn’t intend to abandon your permanent residence in the United States during the time you were abroad (for more than six months but less than one year).

To accomplish this, you’ll need to provide evidence that you maintained strong ties to the United States. This evidence could show, for example, that you:

  • Kept your job in the United States and didn’t seek employment while abroad

  • Have immediate family members who remained in the United States

  • Kept your home in the United States

  • Enrolled your children in a U.S. school

IF YOU STAYED ABROAD FOR 365 DAYS OR MORE

If you stayed abroad for one year or longer, USCIS will automatically assume you abandoned your permanent residence in the United States. You may also receive an abandonment Notice to Appear (NTA), in which case you need to contact an attorney without any delay. They will deny your U.S. citizenship application, and you’ll have to wait before you can reapply:

  • If you had to wait five years to apply for citizenship, you’ll need to wait at least four years and one day upon returning from your trip abroad to reapply.

  • If you had to wait three years to apply for citizenship (as the spouse of a U.S. citizen), you’ll need to wait at least two years and one day upon returning from your trip abroad to reapply.

HOW TO AVOID BREAKING CONTINUOUS PRESENCE

To avoid the presumption that you abandoned your permanent resident status, it’s important to take certain precautions prior to leaving the United States.

Here are your options:

1. Apply for a “re-entry permit.” If you anticipate needing to stay abroad for at least one year, it’s essential to apply for a “re-entry permit” (using Form I-131, officially called the “Application for Travel Document”) before you leave the United States.

IMPORTANT: Form I-131 is used to apply for both a re-entry permit and a typical travel permit. But these two permits — though both intended to allow the traveler to re-enter the United States upon returning from a trip abroad — are not the same: a re-entry permit is issued to current green card holders, whereas a travel permit is issued to green card applicants.

You’ll need to provide biometrics while you’re in the United States, but you can request to pick up your re-entry permit from the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you plan to visit (or ask for expedited processing if your trip is due to an emergency). The re-entry permit is valid for two years and cannot be extended, so you must return before the two years has concluded. Otherwise, you most likely won’t be allowed to re-enter the United States.

2. Apply for “preservation” of your permanent residence. You’ll be allowed to keep your permanent resident status if you must stay abroad for one year or longer because of your work, but it must be a specific type of work approved by the U.S. government. (USCIS lists the types of employment that qualify.) To apply for “preservation” of your permanent residence, you’ll need to submit Form N-470 (officially called the “Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes”) to USCIS — in addition to applying for a re-entry permit (see above).

3. Apply for a “returning resident visa.” If you didn’t anticipate needing to stay abroad for one year or longer because of unforeseen circumstances, such as a medical emergency, and therefore did not apply for a re-entry permit before leaving the United States, then it’s essential to apply for a “returning resident visa.” You’ll need to contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (at least three months before you plan to travel back to the United States) and follow their specific instructions for applying. The process usually involves completing Form DS-117 (officially called the “Application to Determine Returning Resident Status”) and an interview with a consular officer, who will determine whether you should receive a returning resident visa based on evidence you provide.

Demonstrating “physical presence”

To apply for U.S. citizenship, you must have physically lived in the United States for at least half of five years (more specifically, 913 days, or roughly 2.5 years) or at least half of three years (more specifically, 548 days, or a little over 1.5 years) if you’re married to a U.S. citizen. Although you’re allowed to take multiple trips outside the United States while you wait out the 3–5 years, it’s important to keep in mind the requirements for “continuous residence” to make sure you also satisfy the “physical presence” requirement.

IMPORTANT: When traveling abroad, USCIS will count the days that you physically leave and return to the United States as days that you were physically present in the United States. In other words, if you leave on the January 1 and return on July 1, both of those days would be counted as days that you were “physically present” in the United States.

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