What Is the Difference Between Continuous Residence and Physical Presence?

When applying for U.S. citizenship, people often get confused with the continuous residence and physical presence requirements. Of course, they both deal with the time length you’re in the United States, but is there a difference between them? 

Understandably, many lawful permanent residents desire to take extended trips to visit friends and family in their native countries and then return to the U.S. However, spending too much time in another country can undermine the commitment you’re required to show the government before you apply. 

Therefore, knowing how frequent or lengthy trips abroad can impact your naturalization application is vital. 

Application for naturalization, a pen, and an American flag
Application for naturalization, a pen, and an American flag. Maintaining a U.S. residence and living in the country for a specified time are mandatory for naturalizing.

What Is Continuous Residence?

Continuous residence means that you have actually lived in the United States for a specific time. To apply for naturalized citizenship, you must have five years of continuous residence in the United States.

Yet, if your spouse is a U.S. citizen, you only need three years of continuous residence while married to them. There is an exception for battered spouses.

Travel outside of the United States could interrupt your continuous presence. Therefore, you should not take any trips outside of the U.S. that last six months or longer. As it relates to naturalization:

  • If you travel outside the U.S. for less than six months, your continuous residence will remain intact.
  • A trip of more than six months but less than a year is considered a break in the continuous residence requirement unless you can demonstrate otherwise.
  • An absence in excess of 12 months a year will likely disrupt your continuous residence.

Therefore, if you are a permanent resident, you should limit your travel abroad to no more than one to five months per trip. 

Proving You Did Not Disrupt Continuous Residence

Though it is a high bar, it is possible to overcome the presumption you did not disrupt continuous residence. To do this, you will be required to provide proof that you continuously maintain durable ties to the United States. US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) permits documented evidence that shows:

  • You had complete access to your U.S. dwelling
  • Your spouse, children, or other immediate family members rained in the U.S.
  • You did not obtain employment while abroad, nor did you end your American employment

Consult with an immigration lawyer if you’ve had an absence for more than six months and are planning to apply for naturalization. A professional attorney knowledgeable about immigration law can look over your case and suggest ways to move forward with your application.

A Continuous Absence of 12 Months or More

You would interrupt residence continuity if you were out of the United States for 365 days or more. This caveat applies whether your absence occurs before or after you’ve filed your application for naturalization. 

This is typically true even if you possess a permit for reentry. For example, a reentry permit allows you to return to the United States following a year-long absence; however, the time you were out of the country will not count towards your continuous residence requirement. 

Four Years and a Day Rule

If you interrupt your continuity of residence, you may not have to build up another five years of continuous residency before completing a naturalization application.

For example, let’s say you are required to demonstrate five-year continuous residency, and your naturalization application is turned down due to a one-year absence. 

In that case, you can still complete a naturalization application four years and one day after your return to the U.S. to continue permanent residence, according to Title 8 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). This is called the “four years and a day” rule. 

If you must follow the three-year continuous residence requirement, you can apply 24 months and one day after returning to the U.S. to continue permanent residency. 

What Is Considered Physical Presence?

Physical presence takes into consideration how many days you were actually in the United States for a specific period over the five years prior to applying for naturalization. 

The requirement states that you must be physically present in the United States for 30 of the 60 months before applying for naturalized citizenship

For example, say you took a two-week vacation to Canada the year before you applied for citizenship. You would still reside in the United States during those two weeks, which counts towards your continuous presence requirement. However, those two weeks do not count toward your physical presence requirement.

Additionally, if your spouse is a U.S. citizen and you’ve been married to them for a three-year period, then you need only 18 months of physical presence. 

Physical Presence Is Cumulative

Because physical presence is cumulative, you must add each day you were not the United States together. This means you won’t be eligible for naturalization if you were absent from the U.S. for too long.

Specific U.S. military members, religious workers, U.S. research agency staff members, business travelers, and government employees are exempt from the physical presence requirement. 

How FileRight.com Helps You Meet Residency Requirements

Think you’re ready to apply for the United States naturalized citizenship? First, we make sure you meet continuous residence and physical presence prerequisites before you file. Next, our self-directed software and services make USCIS form preparation painless, eliminating confusing instructions by completing your application forms for you. 

Then, our software platform curtails common errors and ensures you haven’t left anything out. This prevents application delays, denials, and rejections. Finally, we offer customized filing guidance for your finished application. All that’s left is to print and file your application with confidence.

Visit FileRight and get started on your application right now.

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