One of the most common questions that our citizenship clients ask is whether there are any travel prohibitions after they have filed for naturalization. At the risk of oversimplifying matters, the short answer is that applicants are allowed to travel outside the US even after their N-400 applications are lodged. That being said, individuals need to remain cognizant of the eligibility requirements for naturalization, some of which extend up and through to the time of the interview. In some cases, conduct after an application is filed can seriously impact the application and ultimately form the basis of a denial. When it comes to international travel, remember that an applicant must not only satisfy the physical presence requirement, but also the continuous residence requirement.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, an applicant for naturalization bears the burden of demonstrating continuous residence for at least five years prior to filing and up to the time of naturalization. In other words, the clock does not stop once an application is filed. In fact, certain absences outside the US are presumed to break the continuity of one’s residence-which, if not satisfactorily rebutted by the applicant-can spell denial. The two triggers are:
· Absences of more than six months but less than one year; and
· Absences of one year or more
In other words, if an applicant travels outside the US for more than six months after the application is filed, he/she should be prepared to address the trip at the interview. The officer will likely ask the applicant for an explanation why the trip exceeded six months and for proof or documentation that he/she did not disrupt residence. According to the Policy Manual, this may include proof that the applicant did not terminate employment in the US or seek employment abroad; proof that the applicant’s immediate family members remained in the US; and that the applicant retained full access to his/her residence in the US. If the applicant does not have such evidence with him/her at the time of the interview, he/she may receive an N-14 Request for Evidence with instructions to furnish such evidence. Or worse, if an officer is not so charitable, the application may be denied on the basis that continuous residence has not been maintained.
Accordingly, naturalization applicants need to be mindful of trips outside the US, especially ones that exceed six months, whether before or during the application process. In general, especially if one has an extensive history of international travel, one may want to consider limiting one’s trips in order to avoid raising unnecessary flags. Understand that in certain cases, even if no single trip is more than 180 days, a pattern of frequent trips that are close in time interrupted by only very brief stays in the US may create an impression in an officer’s mind that those multiple trips constitute one or more long trips that may be presumed to break continuity.
The above is general information only. It is not specific legal advice nor intended to create an attorney client relationship. If you need advice, please consult with an attorney.