Does travel outside the United States affect permanent resident status and does it increase the waiting time for Naturalization? Permanent residents are free to travel outside the United States, and temporary or brief travel usually does not affect your permanent resident status or your eligibility for naturalization.
An applicant for naturalization needs to be physically present in the United States for at least half of the required time of residence. For most people, that means being in the US for at least two and a half years out of the required five years. If married to a US citizen, the requirement is at least one and a half out of three years.
For Naturalization requirements, you are free to go abroad for reasonable periods of time, but you must also maintain continuous residence in the US. What does “continuous residence” mean?
“Residence” basically means having and keeping ties to the US, even though you may be outside the States for several months. This is similar to Vietnamese tourist visa applicants. They have to show that they have family and economic ties to Vietnam and they do not intend to abandon their home in Vietnam.
So, with naturalization in mind, residence means having an actual place to live and other ties to the US such as a job, a family, property ownership, bank account, US mailing address, filing tax returns as a resident every year. It also means not giving up your US job in order to accept employment abroad. “Residence” means that you clearly have the intention of living in the US as a permanent resident, at least until you become a citizen.
If your trips abroad are less than six months each, CIS will usually not question you when you apply for Naturalization. However, if you are outside the US for more than six months – but less than one year – CIS may ask you to show that you did not break the continuous residence period. CIS may be satisfied if you can show that you did not quit your job in the US and did not become employed outside the US, that your immediate family remained here in the US and that you kept your home in the US. If you cannot provide this evidence to CIS, your wait time for Naturalization application will be increased.
Of course there may be situations beyond your control that may require you to be in Vietnam for more than six months. Medical conditions that prevent travel, or family emergencies, are two examples. If these are well documented, CIS will be satisfied.
Absence from the States for a continuous period of one year or more will almost always break the continuity of residence. The only exception is if you are in the US military, or employed abroad by the US government or a US government contractor. Otherwise, if you are abroad for more than a year, CIS will add four years to your wait time for Naturalization, starting from the date of your return to the US. If you are married to a US citizen, CIS will add two years wait, starting from your return to the US.
Let’s look at a situation where everything is a problem: An unmarried permanent resident has been in the US for 2 years. He has a job that he does not like. He rents an apartment. A friend in Vietnam offers him a job so he decides to go there for several months until he can locate a better job in the US. He sells his car, vacates his apartment, closes his US bank account. He no longer has any ties to the US.
While back in Vietnam, he files his US tax return using form 1040NR, claiming that he is a non-resident alien, hoping that will lower his taxes. After 7 or 8 months he returns to the US, gets a new job, a new car, a new apartment. Eventually, he applies for Naturalization.
CIS denies the N-400 application. They say that while he was in Vietnam for more than six months, he did not maintain US residence status, so he broke the continuous residence requirement. And, when he claimed to be a non-resident on his tax return, that also meant he was breaking the continuous residence status.
In general, it is best to limit pleasure trips abroad to a couple of months. If a longer stay is anticipated, you should obtain a Re-entry permit before you leave. That will show CIS that you intended only a temporary absence from the US.
Q.1. What happens if a permanent resident loses the Green Card while in Vietnam?
A.1. A travel letter or returning resident visa can be obtained from Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), 8th Floor of Diamond Plaza, 9:00 – 11:00 a.m. on Monday and Thursday.
Q.2. If you are outside the US for more than one year, can a lost Green Card be replaced?
A.2. You would have to prove to ICE than the long time abroad was due to circumstances beyond your control, and that you do have evidence of maintaining a US residence while you were abroad.
Q. 3. What happens if you return to the US after an absence of more than a year and you lack proof of continuous residence in the US?
A.3. At the arrival airport, ICE will probably confiscate your Green Card and give you an appointment for a delayed inspection. You might lose permanent resident status. If that happens, your sponsor will have to file a new immigrant visa on your behalf.