In updated guidance in its Policy Manual, USCIS provides extensive detail about the legal prerequisites to becoming a naturalized citizen of the US. While it is well known that permanent residence for at least five years is required, there are situations that involve looking beyond the date a green card was issued. Under certain conditions, USCIS may also be examining whether an applicant for citizenship has at any time abandoned his/her permanent residence. If the candidate has, then the N-400 will be denied.
This issue will normally arise if an applicant has a long history of protracted trips (or even a single trip that is unusually long) abroad. In determining whether an individual has abandoned his/her status, the officer may review a number of factors including:
- Length of absence from the US
- Purpose of travel outside the US
- Intent to return to the US as a lawful permanent resident; and
- Continued ties to the United States.
Technically speaking, abandonment of permanent residence should not be confused with continuity of residence, which must always be assessed by the officer during the course of an interview. An applicant may have broken the continuity of one’s residence, and hence disqualified him or herself from citizenship, but not necessarily have abandoned residence. On the other hand, depending on the circumstances, an applicant may have not only broken his/his continuity of residence but, in the officer’s judgement, actually abandoned his/her residence. There are certainly important differences between the two. One who has broken the continuity of residence is not prevented from reapplying for naturalization once continuity is no longer an issue. On the other hand, one who has abandoned his/her residence has in essence, terminated his/his status—whether or not one has voluntarily relinquished it, usually by formally executing an I-407, Record of Abandonment of Permanent Residence. The policy manual ominously indicates that if a citizenship applicant has executed an I-407, USCIS will deny the application and place the individual into removal proceedings. The unspoken implication is that those who have not signed I-407s but are deemed to have abandoned residence could also conceivably be exposed to removal proceedings.
Given the drastic consequences which the government has now explicitly made public, it is critical to review all trips outside the United States with your immigration attorney if you are considering applying for naturalization, or concerned about maintaining your lawful permanent residence.
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.