Naturalization Requirements: The Continuous Residence Requirement

Among other naturalization requirements, a permanent resident must satisfy a few requirements that relate to certain periods of residence. For example, a permanent resident must satisfy a three-year or five-year “continuous residence requirement,” a physical presence requirement, a continuous-residence-after-filing-of-application requirement, a state-residence requirement, and an intention-to-reside-permanently-in-the-US-after-naturalization requirement. With all of these requirements that relate to same concept, a period of residency, it is no wonder that many permanent residents get lost about what is required for naturalization and are not sure whether they qualify for naturalization.

Here, we will look at the three- and five-year continuous residence requirement. (Whether the continuous residence requirement is a three-year or five-year requirement primarily depends on how the non-citizen seeking naturalization acquired his or her permanent residence status. If he or she acquired it through marriage, then the requirement is a three-year requirement; otherwise it is a five-year requirement.)

The requirement appears in the law as follows: “No person, except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, shall be naturalized unless such applicant, (1) immediately preceding the date of filing his application for naturalization has resided continuously, after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence, within the United States for at least [three or] five years and during the [three or] five years immediately preceding the date of filing ….”

Understanding of the continuous residence requirement is important for some permanent residents to know where they stand. For example, a permanent resident who lives with her family out of the country and comes back intermittently to make sure the government does not consider her to have abandoned her permanent residence might wonder if her living arrangement prevents her from successfully naturalizing.

First, it is important for this permanent resident to recognize how the relevant law defines US “residence”: it is defined as having the principal dwelling place in the US.

Second, it is useful to for this permanent resident to recognize the effect of certain absences. Absence from the US for a continuous period of one year or more during the period for which continuous residence is required for naturalization shall break the continuity of such residence, except in certain situations in which the permanent resident is an employee or contractor of the US government, an employee in certain businesses, or an employee in certain public international organizations.

Absences from the US of more than six months but less than one year are also noteworthy when they occur during the pre-naturalization-application-filing period in which continuous residence is required. Such an absence shall break the continuity of such residence, unless the permanent resident establishes to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that she did not in fact abandon his residence in the US during such period.

The Code of Federal Regulations provides that “[t]he types of documentation which may establish that the applicant did not disrupt the continuity of his or her residence in the United States during an extended absence include, but are not limited to, evidence that during the absence: (A) The applicant did not terminate his or her employment in the United States; (B) The applicant’s immediate family remained in the United States; (C) The applicant retained full access to his or her United States abode; or (D) The applicant did not obtain employment while abroad.”

Certain absences from the US, however, will not break continuity of residence. Absences of less than six months are, arguably, unimportant for purposes of the continuous residence.

With this information, many permanent residents should be able to figure out whether they satisfy the continuous residence requirement.