USCIS recently revised their Policy Manual on Naturalization to further address the legal effect of absences outside the US. This guidance particularly affects green card holders who have traveled outside the United States for more than one year and who are now applying for citizenship. The government’s Policy Alert reminds the public that absences outside the US for one year or more automatically breaks the continuity of residence, one of the fundamental requirements for citizenship. This is true even if the individual possesses a re-entry permit, since the permit only preserves the individual’s permanent residence (in general, a green card holder who travels outside the US for one year or more, uninterrupted during a single trip, will be deemed to have abandoned his/her residence here.) If such an individual wishes to apply for naturalization, he/she must wait a minimum of at least 4 years and 1 day.
The import of the amendments to the Policy Manual is to emphasize this: even if a green card holder waits the requisite four years and 1 day to apply for naturalization, he/she must still establish continuity of residence because that long trip will likely fall within the statutory period under consideration. Remember that in addition to the one-year rule, there is also another rule that clearly states that any absence of six months or more, but less than one year, creates a presumption (that may be rebutted) that continuity has been broken. So while waiting 4 years and 1 day may allow an individual to become eligible, the applicant must still overcome this presumption by furnishing proof of residence during that long trip abroad.
Therefore, green card applicants need to be strategic when planning their citizenship applications. The new policy guidance clarifies that for individuals who may not be able to rebut a break in continuous residence, it is suggested that they wait four years and six months-as opposed to four years and one day–after a trip of one year or more. (If applying under Section 319, the applicant would wait two years and six months, as opposed to two years and one day.) The logic is that the long trip will fall outside the statutory period and therefore will not have to be addressed.
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.