Will an extended stay outside of the United States due to coronavirus break my continuous residency for purposes of citizenship?
Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri. We have been receiving a lot of messages and emails from people who have green cards and are stuck outside of the United States.
I was talking to someone the other day, he happened to be a pilot and he landed back in his home country for his job back in March and he was stuck outside the United States away from his wife and child for several weeks, even months, and he was fine.
He had only been out of the United States for a month or so or two at that point, but there are people who get worried when their stay has been more than six months or at the six month mark where they went overseas say four or five months ago.
They plan to come back on time, they plan to come back with two or three weeks to spare, and they’re worried what’s going to happen if that’s going to break their continuous residency.
So whenever someone applies for citizenship, you have to demonstrate that you have resided in the United States during the period immediately proceeding it. So if it’s based on marriage to a U.S. citizen, you have to show that during the last three years you’ve spent at least half the time in the United States.
If you’re applying for a citizenship not based on a green card through marriage then it’s five years, so you’re going to have to show two and a half years in the United States. So that’s sort of one question. The other question is, have you had any trips outside of the United States of more than six months?
The reason that’s important is because if your residency has broken, if there’s been a break in your continuous residency, and that’s any trip outside of the United States for more than six months, what’s going to happen?
Is that going to keep you from being able to get your citizenship? And I think in this situation, USCIS is going to have a hard time arguing that if you had a round trip ticket at say five months after you left the United States and then the coronavirus hit and you ended up being out of the United States for seven months, I think USCIS is going to have a hard time arguing that you broke your residency. It was a pandemic.
It was a world calamity. It’s something that everybody knows about so it’s not like you had any choice. All the flights were canceled. You should do everything you can to get back here as fast as you can and you should document all your efforts to get back on time.
So if you had flights that were canceled, you’re going to want to keep proof of all that. You’re going to prove that you kept trying to come to the United States, that you tried to buy tickets.
I would keep a log of all your efforts so that you can show if and when you ever apply for citizenship that it wasn’t your intention to break your residency, but it was only because of the pandemic and because the airlines were closed that you weren’t able to come to the United States.
So I think that you might get some pushback initially from USCIS, but it’s going to be pretty hard for them over the longterm to argue that you abandoned your residency simply because you got stuck outside of the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.
We hope you found this video helpful. If you have questions about applying for citizenship, continuous residency, how to your lawful permanent resident status, give us a call at 314-961-8200.
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