Question: I am a legal resident since 1991. I left the US for 1 year to study in Australia. Have I lost my 5 continous years in the us to apply for citizenship?
Answer: The continuous residence requirement is very specific to each situation, and many facts can affect whether being out of the U.S. will break your continuous residence. How long were you living in the U.S. as a permanent resident before you left to attend school? Exactly how long were you out of the U.S.? Did you maintain ties to the U.S while you were in school (i.e. pay rent or mortgage payments on a U.S. residence while you were in school, file U.S. taxes)? If your absence from the U.S. was 6 months to a year, you may not have broken your continuous residence if you can sufficiently demonstrate you have maintained “close ties” to the U.S. However, if you were out of the U.S. for more than 1 year, the time you spent in the U.S. as a permanent resident will most likely not count toward your continuous residence requirement. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) provides a form N-470, which is a form that certain types of applicants who plan to remain longer than a year outside the United States may file to preserve “continuous residence” status. There are limitations on who can file an N-470, and when the form can be filed. It is best to refer to the charts in the USCIS’ “Guide to Naturalization” to determine if you qualify to file an N-470. Your situation is a bit intricate because you have an extensive stay in the U.S. as a permanent resident, and your time out of the U.S. teeters on an important dividing line (1 year) in determining if your time prior to leaving the U.S. counts towards your continuous residence requirement. For your situation, if you are considering filing for naturalization, you should consult an immigration attorney who can help you navigate the potential hazards your time out of the U.S. might cause. Additionally, if you spent a year or more out of the U.S., and return within 2 years, some of the time you spent out of the U.S. may count toward meeting your continuous residence requirement.
May 13, 2009