Keeping your green card and eligibility for USA citizenship

“How often do I need to come to the United States to keep my green card and apply for US citizenship?” I have heard this question countless times from our lawful permanent resident clients. We are able to help many of our clients keep their green card and file for citizenship, even when they have extended trips abroad. The key is educating our clients on common myths about travel for greencard holders and careful planning.

Avoiding abandonment of your lawful permanent resident status
A common myth among lawful permanent residents is that you can simply come to the United States every six months and keep your green card. This is not true. Eventually, US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) will figure out that you are visiting the US rather than residing here. A US Lawful permanent resident should reside in the US, work and pay taxes not just visit. Thus, CBP will focus on the number of days you were in the in the US. compared to the number of days you were out of the US.

Departures from the US that are six months or longer will often prompt CBP questioning and requests for proof of US residence (e.g. taxes, employment records, bills, leases, mortgages). Filing US federal income tax returns as a non-resident is a significant problem.

Thus, the reason for the trip (and how you can prove it) often becomes as significant as the time spent abroad. If the extended foreign travel is temporary (e.g. short-term employment, caring for sick family member, advanced studies), then having the appropriate documentation to prove this will make your entries into the US smoother. A Reentry Permit may be advisable for some LPR’s who need to leave the U.S. for extended periods of time.

Moreover, if you are a lawful permanent resident who is absent from the US for one year or longer, consider your green card cancelled by operation of law. Some clients, however, can request a special Returning Resident visa to avoid this fate through their US consulate abroad.

How long do green card holders need to be in the U.S. to be eligible for U.S. citizenship?
Lawful permanent residents normally have to wait until their 5 year greencard anniversary to apply for US citizenship, minus 90 days. The main exception is for certain marriage-based cases which permit filing by the 3 year greencard anniversary, minus 90 days. Once you figure out which wait time applies to you, then you calculate whether you have both the required physical presence and continuous residence.

Physical presence and continuous residence sound like the same thing, but they are not. Physical presence refers to the number of days you are physically on US soil. Continuous residence refers to consistently maintaining the US as your home, e.g. showing you have a house, job, bills or other indications that the US is your home while you are away. You have to show you were physically present in the US for at least 50% of days in the 5 or 3 year period (whichever applies to you) preceding your citizenship application. You also have to show continuous residence in the US for 100% of that same applicable period of time.

Finally, bear in mind there are some special expedited naturalization rules for the following individuals should they meet the appropriate regulatory requirements:

US military
Employees or contractors with the US government working abroad
Employees of US corporations or research institutions abroad
Spouses of US citizens regularly stationed abroad
More information is available at here.

Michael M. Shabani
Attorney and Counselor at Law
1318 Alford Avenue, Suite 202
Birmingham, AL 35226-3161
Toll Free: 1-866-wrk-visa

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