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[Read More Articles] | [print this article] Residency Requirement for Naturalization
After several years of waiting and navigating the intricacies of immigration rules in the US, it would not be surprising for many permanent residents to consider the acquisition of US citizenship as the ultimate goal.

We recall the deathbed wish of Gloria Canonizado, the 59-year old Filipino domestic worker of acquiring US citizenship. Her foremost concern was to make it to her USCIS fingerprint appointment even as she battled breast cancer in a Bronx hospital. A recent report in the Houston Chronicle relates how a pregnant woman delayed labor in order to attend her naturalization ceremony.

The long-drawn out process of acquiring US citizenship begins by trying to meet the eligibility requirements for naturalization. The most common questions about qualifying for naturalization concern the residency requirement. When can the permanent resident travel abroad? How long can s/he stay outside the US?

Lawful Admission

To qualify for naturalization, the noncitizen must have been lawfully admitted as a permanent resident. The noncitizen may not be eligible to naturalize, if s/he was not qualified for permanent residency or there are defects in his/her permanent residency status.

A person who was not entitled to permanent status in the first place and eventually became a naturalized citizen may still lose his/her US citizenship at any time.

A noncitizen who was not lawfully admitted but has served honorably in the US Armed Forces may apply for naturalization under certain conditions. This is an exception to the lawful admission requirement.

5-Year Continous Residency

Another requirement for naturalization is that the noncitizen must have continuously resided in the US as a permanent resident for five years immediately prior to the filing of the application. This is different from the physical presence requirement to be discussed below, as this does not imply that the noncitizen actually stay in the US throughout the 5-year period.

What happens when the permanent resident stays outside the US for extended periods?

Absence from the US for a period of one year or more interrupts continuous residence, meaning, the 5-year period would have to run anew in order for the noncitizen to qualify for naturalization.

An absence of more than six months does not interrupt continuous residence but simply gives rise to a presumption that the noncitizen abandoned residence for the purpose of naturalization. If a preponderance of evidence is presented that there was no intention to abandon continuous residence, then there is no interruption.

There is also no interruption in case of absences of six months or less.

Shortened Continuous Residency

For persons who are married to US citizens, the continuous residence period is lowered to three years. The couple must be “living in marital union” for the entire 3-year period and the US citizen spouse must keep his US citizenship throughout this period.

In case the US citizen spouse dies or is expatriated or the couple has obtained a divorce during this 3-year period, the noncitizen would no longer be eligible under this special rule.

If the noncitizen has acquired permanent resident status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and was married to a US citizen or was a child of a US citizen, the 3-year continuous residence requirement also applies. Further, there is no marital union requirement.

Interruption of Continuous Residency

Where a noncitizen is found to have interrupted his residence, s/he may reapply 4 years and 1 day after reentering the US to take up continuous residence. If the 3-year period applies, reapplication may be made 2 years and one day after reentry.

Physical Presence

The physical presence requirement means the noncitizen must be actually be present in the US for half of the 5-year (30 months) or 3-year period (18 months) of continuous residency.

This requirement applies even for employees of US corporations or international organizations who have applied with the USCIS to preserve the continuity of residence.

The noncitizen must reside in the state or within the USCIS district where the application is filled for at least 3 months before the filing of the application for naturalization. If residence is maintained in more than one state, the noncitizen will be considered a resident of the state where the annual federal income tax returns are being filed.

It must also be noted that the noncitizen must maintain his residency in the US from the time the application is filed up to his/her admission to citizenship.

When to Apply

The noncitizen may file the application for naturalization three months before the end of the 5 or 3-year continuous residence period. Thus, a noncitizen may file the application 4 years and 9 months after obtaining permanent resident status or in the case of the spouse of a US citizen or a VAWA applicant, the application may be filed after 2 years and nine months. At any rate, the full 5 and 3-year continuous residence requirement must be satisfied.
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