If my company transfers me abroad, will I still be able to apply for citizenship? Can I apply for citizenship if I have to spend time outside of the United States?
In today’s global economy, intercompany transfers between U.S. companies their foreign branches or subsidiaries is common. For Legal Permanent Residents of the United States who are planning to apply for citizenship, these absences from the U.S. raise concerns about whether working abroad will affect the citizenship process. It is an important question because maintaining your green card and maintaining your eligibility to apply for citizenship are different when it comes to how Immigration considers time spent abroad.
Will I lose my green card if I am outside of the U.S. for more than 6 months? Will I lose my green card if I am outside of the U.S. for more than 1 year?
To maintain your green card, if you spend more than six months continuously outside of the U.S., a presumption arises that you have abandoned legal permanent residence in the U.S. Maintaining ties in the U.S. can overcome this presumption. Some examples of ties are maintaining a home in the U.S., having immediate family members who reside in the U.S., and paying taxes in the U.S. If you remain outside of the U.S. for more than one year, it is presumed you have abandoned your green card. See more about maintaining your green card here.
It is possible to apply for a reentry permit if you know that you will be outside of the U.S. for more than 6 months. Obtaining a reentry permit protects a green card holder from being found to have abandoned legal permanent residence upon reentering after a long absence from the U.S. A reentry permit can be granted for up to 2 years.
Will I lose my eligibility to get U.S. citizenship if I am outside of the U.S. for more than one year?
One of the requirements for citizenship is that you must maintain continuous residence in the U.S. for 5 years prior to taking the oath of citizenship. Continuous residence means that you have maintained a dwelling place in the United States during that time. It does not mean that you have to be in the U.S. every day for 5 years; the actual physical presence requirement is that you have been in the U.S. for at least half of the 5-year period.
Similar to the continuous presence requirements of maintaining a green card, being outside of the U.S. for more than six months creates a presumption that you have broken the continuity of residence. This can be rebutted by similar factors as above in showing that you have maintained ties to the U.S. If you are outside of the U.S. for more than one year, your continuous residence has been broken, and the 5- year period required to apply for citizenship starts all over again.
Importantly, applying for a reentry permit can protect your green card from being deemed abandoned, but a reentry permit will not preserve your continuous residence in the U.S. for the purposes of citizenship. Even if you are allowed to reenter the U.S. after working abroad from more than one year as a green card holder, the 5-year period to wait until you can apply for naturalization will start all over again upon this entry even though you had applied for a reentry permit.
Is there any way to preserve my ability to apply for citizenship if I have to work outside of the U.S. for more than one year?
One way that you can preserve continuous residence is by filing an application that is available for specific types of employment abroad, including through:
- the U.S. government;
- an American institution of research to perform scientific research;
- an American firm or corporation engagement in foreign trade and commerce of the U.S.;
- a public international organization of which the U.S. is a member;
- a religious function through a denomination or mission having an organization in the U.S.
In order to qualify, you have to already have been living in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for at least one year prior to filing the application, and during that time, you had to have been physically present in the U.S. every single day. This rule is strictly enforced, so you will not qualify if you took even a short vacation abroad during that one-year period.
Also, the filing of this application only preserves your ability to naturalize and does not protect your green card; therefore, a reentry permit will also be needed if you will outside of the U.S. for more than one year.
Please note that other exceptions to the continuous residence requirement exist for spouses of U.S. citizens working abroad as well as people abroad in the U.S. military and their immediate family members.
If you have a goal of becoming a U.S. citizen, the best course of action is to apply as soon as you are eligible- five years after you obtain legal permanent residence, unless your green card was through marriage in which case it is three years. If you have any questions about your eligibility to become a citizen, please call Scott Legal P.C. for a consultation.
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