In order to become a citizen of the United States, lawful permanent residents (green card holders, or LPRs) must satisfy a number of requirements, including having good moral character, passing an English test and a civics test, maintaining continuous residence in the United States, and having a physical presence in the United States.
Many people are confused by the requirements of continuous residence and physical presence, since they sound like they mean almost the same thing. While the two are related, they are distinct requirements, and each one must be satisfied independent of the other. Having already discussed the continuous residence requirement in a previous blog post, let's turn our attention to what "physical presence" really means.
Physical presence is exactly what it sounds like: you, personally, must be present in the United States. Not your home, your family, your mailing address, or your possessions. Those things may speak to where your residence is, but physical presence is established by where you actually are.
How long are you required to be "physically present" in the United States to be eligible for citizenship? It depends on how you acquired your green card. If you have a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen, you must have been physically present in the United States for at least one-half of the immediately preceding three years. If your green card was not obtained through marriage to a citizen, you must have been physically present for at least one-half of the immediately preceding five years.
That total amount of time is cumulative, by the way. So, theoretically, you could spend every other month outside of the United States, but as long as you were present in the United states for over fifty percent of that three- or five-year period, you have met the physical presence requirement.
That said, you should be aware that even if you meet the physical presence requirement, you could still fail to meet the continuous residence requirement. For example, if you were required to maintain physical presence in the United States in the five years prior to your citizenship application, and you spent two years in the U.S., one year in your home country, then another two years in the U.S., you would technically meet the physical presence requirement.
However, your year-long absence would presumptively disrupt your continuous residence in the United States, and even an absence of six months may be found to disrupt your residence.
It's one thing to have been present in the United States, but how do you prove that you were? There are a number of ways. Your passport, showing when you traveled into and out of the country is one persuasive piece of evidence. Other documentation you might provide if needed includes school transcripts, paycheck stubs from a job, or affidavits from a neighbor or other people who had the chance to observe your presence firsthand.
If you are concerned about whether you can prove that you meet the physical presence requirement to become a citizen of the United States, contact Howard County, MD immigration lawyer Van T. Doan.