Eligibility for U.S. citizenship requires, among other things, that an individual "has resided continuously within the United States...for a period of at least five years after having been lawfully admitted for permanent residence." Let's take a look at what continuous residence really means.
The issue of "continuous residence" concerns many people seeking to become a naturalized American citizen. What exactly does "continuous" mean? And what counts as a "residence?"
In general, as far as the U.S. Government is concerned, your residence, also called your domicile, is the principal place where you actually live. Your intent does not control where your residence is. What matters is where you are actually staying.
As for measuring how long you have lived at a residence, that is determined from the time that you first established your residence there. For example, if you began staying at a friend's apartment in June, but did not formally sign a lease to live there until December, your residence for purposes of immigration dates from June.
If, as a lawful permanent resident, you maintain more than one "residence," the principal residence is considered to be the one from which you file your federal income tax returns.
If you are considered a "commuter alien," you can still establish residence in the United States. A commuter alien is someone who has been admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident, but who lives in a contiguous foreign territory (Canada or Mexico) and commutes to work in the United States. Commuter aliens are considered "special immigrants."
There are also provisions which allow lawful permanent residents who serve in the United States military to establish residence in the United States, even though their enlistment requires them to live outside the United States. Likewise, a lawful permanent resident student who is studying in a different state from where their home residence is located may apply for naturalization at either location, if they can show they were financially dependent on parents at the home residence at the time the application was filed.
Most people are relieved to hear that the requirement of "continuous residence" does not mean they can never leave the country; after all, many applicants for U.S. citizenship have family members outside of the United States, or business in their countries of origin to which they must personally attend. There is considerable flexibility in the requirement that residence be continuous, but there are, of course, limits.
You obviously cannot move to another country intending to remain there on a permanent basis. You can travel abroad, but if you are traveling abroad for six months or more, you must provide proof that you still live in the United States. If you travel abroad for more than a year, you must get a returning resident visa or reentry permit. And if you fail to file a U.S. tax return because you consider yourself a non-resident, that will also support a conclusion that your residence is not continuous.
If you are concerned about your status as a continuous resident of the United States, contact Howard County, MD immigration lawyer Van T. Doan.
Learn more about requirements for becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States: