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Goel & Anderson regularly handles routine and complex naturalization cases, all of which require careful planning and examination of the client’s immigration, travel, employment, legal, and social background. Becoming a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process can have important tax, employment, and other benefits. U.S. citizens are also entitled to take an active part in our democracy, enjoy enhanced travel flexibility, and take advantage of significant additional avenues to help family members emigrate. It is also impossible to deport a U.S. citizen (unless citizenship was acquired fraudulently) — a significant benefit given the increasing number of deportations of permanent residents, irrespective of their length of time living in, and family ties to, the U.S.
Foreign nationals must meet the following basic requirements to be eligible for United States citizenship:
- The applicant must be admitted to permanent resident status.
- The applicant must have a continuous residence in the United States for at least five years for most permanent residents (and at least three years for those married to a U.S. citizen).
- The applicant must reside in the U.S. state from where they are applying for at least three months.
- The applicant must have the ability to read, write, and speak ordinary English.
- The applicant must have knowledge of U.S. history and government.
- The applicant must be of good moral character.
- The applicant must maintain continuous residence in the U.S. from the date of filing the naturalization application until actual admission to citizenship.
- The applicant must have been physically present in the United States for at least 2.5 years (1.5 years for most spouses of U.S. citizens).
- The applicant must be at least 18 years old at the time of filing for naturalization (subject to certain exceptions);
- The applicant must support the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
Continuity of Residence for Naturalization Purposes
Among the most difficult (and often misunderstood) requirements for naturalization is the condition that the permanent resident resides continuously in the U.S. for a period of five (or three) years after admission to resident status. While a permanent resident may still return to the U.S. after a lengthy absence without adversely affecting their status, the absence may break the continuity of the alien's residence in the U.S. for naturalization purposes. The following rules apply:
- An absence of less than six months does not break the alien's continuity of residence in the U.S. for naturalization purposes.
- An absence of six months or more, but less than one year, breaks the continuity of the alien's residence for naturalization purposes unless the alien can give a reasonable explanation of the absence. An overseas assignment with a U.S. employer is typically accepted as a reasonable explanation.
- An absence from the U.S. of one year or more automatically breaks the continuity of the alien's residence for naturalization purposes, unless the alien takes steps prior to the expiration of the year abroad to preserve the continuity of his/her residence.
One way to avoid negative consequences of the continuous residence naturalization rule is for the foreign national to return to the U.S. every six months, or at least every year if he/she has a reasonable explanation for his or her absence. Even a short stay in the U.S. is sufficient to end the absence abroad for continuous residence purposes. When planning such trips, however, it is important for the permanent resident to still meet the ultimate requirement that he/she was physically present in the U.S. for at least half the period of required continuous residence i.e., 2.5 years (or 1.5 years for most spouses of U.S. citizens).
The consequences of a break in the continuity of the alien's residence for naturalization purposes are significant. After a break in continuity, the alien must start all over again to accumulate the necessary five or three years of continuous residence upon his or her return to the U.S.
It is critical to consider the difference between maintaining continuity of residence for naturalization purposes and maintaining permanent resident status. Maintaining permanent resident status depends on the intention of the foreign national to return to the U.S. after a temporary trip abroad. The issuance of a re-entry permit to the foreign national is an acknowledgment that his/her trip abroad is considered temporary (at least up to two years). Maintaining continuity of residence for naturalization purposes depends strictly on the length of the absence of the permanent resident, and the issuance of a re-entry permit has no bearing on this issue.