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Understanding the Residency Requirement for US Citizenship and Exceptions
  • dimartinolaw
  • May 3, 2023

Understanding the Residency Requirement for US Citizenship and Exceptions

For individuals looking to become U.S. citizens, there is a continuous residency requirement that must be met before the citizenship application can be submitted. This requirement means that the individual must have been a legal permanent resident, or green card holder, in the United States for a certain amount of time before they can apply for citizenship.

In this blog, we will explore the residency requirement and the exceptions that exist for those seeking citizenship, as explained by an experienced Italian immigration attorney.

Applications for Naturalization and the Continuous Residence Requirement

Applying for citizenship in the United States requires an individual to have lived in the country under legal permanent resident status for at least five years. The application can be filed under the guidance of an Italian immigration attorney.  The date on which an individual became a legal permanent resident will be noted on their green card. If an individual had conditional resident status prior to permanent resident status, they can count the two years they spent as a conditional resident toward the five-year residency requirement, assuming that they became a permanent resident when the two-year period ended.

There are some exceptions to the five-year rule, which means that an individual may be able to apply for citizenship sooner or later than the five-year requirement. However, if an individual does not meet the other requirements for citizenship once the five-year period expires, they may need to wait longer than five years.

Submit an application up to 90 days

An individual may submit their naturalization application up to 90 days before their five-year residency period elapses through an Italian immigration attorney. This is because the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires time to process the application, schedule fingerprinting appointments, and conduct official interviews and citizenship tests. Even after an individual completes all of these steps, USCIS will still require more time to make a final decision on their application.

Exceptions for Foreign Nationals Married to U.S. Citizens

If an individual has held a green card for three years and has been living with a U.S. citizen spouse for that time, they can apply for U.S. citizenship once the three-year period expires. The individual will need to submit proof of eligibility to file for citizenship after the three-year period, but they do not necessarily need to have obtained their green card or immigrant visa through their marriage. To preserve their eligibility for citizenship, the individual must remain married to the U.S. citizen until the naturalization ceremony. They must also live with their U.S. citizen spouse until they file for naturalization, but they do not need to continue living with them until the naturalization ceremony as long as the marriage is still valid. If the U.S. citizen spouse dies, the individual will not be able to continue pursuing the citizenship application.

An important exception to these rules protects victims of domestic violence perpetrated by a U.S. citizen spouse. Individuals are not required to live continuously with their abusive spouse for three years to obtain citizenship. If an individual obtained their green card based on their marriage to a U.S. citizen but is filing a self-petition under Form I-360 because of their abuse, they can still obtain citizenship after three years. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects spouses and children of U.S. citizens who perpetrate domestic violence and provides a modified route to citizenship.

Exceptions for Refugees and Asylees

A foreign national who arrived in the U.S. as a refugee can count the time they lived in the U.S. as a refugee toward the five-year residency requirement. However, they cannot count the time during which they held refugee status but were not present in the U.S. They will need to refer to the date on which they entered the U.S.

A foreign national who received asylum in the U.S. can count one year of their asylee status toward the five-year requirement. Any additional time prior to obtaining legal permanent resident status will not count, meaning the individual will need to wait four years after they receive their green card before they can apply for citizenship.

Exceptions for Military Personnel and Their Spouses

The naturalization process is expedited for members of the military who serve during periods of hostilities. They can apply for citizenship right after they complete basic training. If they serve during periods of peace, they can apply after one year of service. A U.S. citizen spouse of a military member who is deployed overseas can also apply for expedited naturalization. They may apply for naturalization abroad or after they return to the U.S.

Continuous Residence Requirement

One of the requirements for naturalization is continuous residence. A naturalization applicant must show that they have resided continuously in the U.S. for five years (or three years if married to a U.S. citizen). Continuous residence means that the applicant has maintained their residence in the U.S. and has not taken up residence in another country.

Short Absences

A naturalization applicant may leave the U.S. for brief periods of time without interrupting their continuous residence. Short absences do not break the continuity of residence if the applicant maintains their residence in the U.S. and does not abandon their intention to reside in the U.S. Examples of brief absences include vacations, business trips, and brief trips to visit family abroad.

Longer Absences

Longer absences may break the continuity of residence. A naturalization applicant who has been absent from the U.S. for more than six months but less than one year has the burden of showing that they did not abandon their residence in the U.S. during their absence. A naturalization applicant who has been absent from the U.S. for more than one year has abandoned their residence in the U.S. and cannot establish continuous residence.

Exceptions to the Continuous Residence Requirement

There are exceptions to the continuous residence requirement for certain types of individuals. For example, members of the military who are stationed abroad may be eligible for an exception to the continuous residence requirement. Similarly, a naturalization applicant who is outside the U.S. for employment with a U.S. government agency, an American institution of research, or a public international organization may also be eligible for an exception to the continuous residence requirement.

Sum up

Applying for U.S. citizenship is a significant step for permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. for a period of time. The residency requirement is a critical aspect of the citizenship application process. Green card holders who want to apply for citizenship must meet the continuous residence requirement by demonstrating that they have maintained their residence in the U.S. for a required period of time. Understanding the exceptions to the residency requirement is also important. If you have any questions about the citizenship application process or residency requirements, consult with an experienced Italian immigration attorney at Di Martino Law Group for more details.



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