Citizenship and Other Issues Affecting Permanent Residents
Many permanent residents may decide to apply for naturalization to become US citizens. There are many benefits to becoming a US citizen, including the right to vote, the right to travel on a US passport, and the rights associated with US government protection and assistance when abroad. Some individuals wish to naturalize so they may sponsor family members for legal permanent residence or shorten the length of time a family member will wait for a visa number based on an approved visa petition. Further, when returning to the US, many lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are shocked to be excluded at the border and told that they have abandoned their permanent resident status due to one or too many prolonged absences from the US. Lastly, the grounds of exclusion and deportation, which apply to lawful permanent residents, do not apply to US citizens, making citizenship a far more stable status. The most common grounds of deportation and exclusion include committing a proscribed criminal offense, health related conditions, and receipt of certain forms of public assistance which make individuals likely to become a public charge.
There are several requirements for becoming a naturalized citizen. The most common requirements include:
- Maintenance of lawful permanent resident (LPR) status for five years
- Continuance residence for a period of five years
- Physical presence in the US for at least one-half of the five year period (counted from the date of filing and continuing throughout the application process)
- Continuous residence in the US from the date of filing the naturalization application to the date of approval
- Residence within the state where the application is filed for at least three months
- Good moral character for the five-year period
- Registration for the draft if a male LPR between the ages of 18 and 26
- Knowledge of US history and civics
- Fluency in English (certain exceptions apply)
Those individuals who have been married to, and living with a US citizen for three years may file for citizenship after three years as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) instead of five. Additionally, these individuals must prove physical presence for one-half of three years, be physically present for one-half of three years, and prove good moral character for the past three years.
The physical presence requirement is distinct from the continuous residence requirement. Physical presence requires counting all days outside the country. Continuous residence can be calculated by examining the period of residence and ensuring it is not “broken” with extended absences from the US. The government will consider that individuals outside of the US for six months to one year have broken the continuous residence, unless they can prove otherwise. This determination is different from “abandonment” of permanent residence which is discussed below. However, for either abandonment or meeting the continuous residence requirement, LPRs should maintain the documentation below:
- Proof of US based employment
- Ties to immediate and extended family living in the US
- Retention of full access to US home and other property holdings in the US
- Proof that all US taxes have been filed as a resident
- Proof of US bank or financial accounts
Children born abroad to two US citizen parents are usually US citizens and can apply for a passport at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad. In other cases, US citizen parents may apply for citizenship for their children by filing an N-600 with the USCIS upon meeting certain eligibility criteria for this application.
Citizenship applications are generally filed with the regional USCIS Service Center. Once the USCIS receives the application, it will schedule the applicant for fingerprints at the local application support center (ASC). Once the security checks are complete, the individual is scheduled for an interview at the local USCIS office. This interview involves a test of US government and history, a review of the application and supporting documents, and requires the individual to prove that he or she can speak and write English (unless the individual qualifies for a limited exception to this requirement.) If the application is approved, the USCIS schedules an appointment for an Oath Taking ceremony generally one to two months later. After taking this oath, the individual becomes a US citizen.
Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status
Those individuals who travel frequently outside the US should be careful not to “abandon” their permanent residence. Once outside the country for six months to one year, the US may contend that an individual has abandoned LPR status. If outside the country for one year or longer, the government will assume that the individual has abandoned permanent residence unless the individual can prove otherwise.
Lawful permanent residents may file for a reentry permit as “advance” permission to be absent from the U.S. for up to a two-year period. To file for a reentry permit, the individual must be physically present in the US when filing the application, but may leave while it is processed. Although these permits are valid for two years, they may be extended for a limited period of time. These permits are not conclusive proof that individuals have not abandoned their lawful permanent resident status, but are one form of evidence to that effect.
Again, maintaining permanent resident status after a prolonged absence is distinct from meeting the continuity of residence requirement for naturalization purposes, which is discussed above.
Expired Permanent Resident Cards
Although the “green card” expires, permanent resident status does not expire unless it is abandoned or the government issues a final order removing the individual from the US. In order to file for a replacement or to renew an expired green card, an individual must file a Form I-90 with the USCIS. The USCIS will then issue appropriate instructions for the applicant to visit an Application Support Center and issue a stamp or sticker extending the card’s validity until it produces the new “green card.”
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The above discussion is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. Individuals should visit a licensed attorney to evaluate the legal circumstances surrounding their situation and to receive appropriate legal advice.