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When can I apply for citizenship if I waited more than 2 years between getting GC and moving to the US?

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In 2008, I got my Green Card by winning the Green Card (Diversity) Lottery, then waited until 2011 to permanently move to the US. The main reason for the delay was that I had a decent job overseas and didn't want to give it up and face unemployment in the US during the recession.

I'm trying to understand when I am eligible to apply for US citizenship (I need 5 years of continuous residency).

The timeline is as follows:

-First time arrived in April 2008 with an Permanent Resident visa. Stayed in the US just for a few days. Used my friends' address to receive the GC and Social Security card.

-Second time, arrived in September 2008 for a few more days and applied for a Reentry Permit to be able to stay outside of the US for another 2 years.. Then arrived again in October 2008 to get fingerprinted (part of Reentry Permit application process), left 2 days later. Received reentry permit at the US embassy abroad a couple of months later.

-End of September 2010, arrived one more time for about a week. Was pulled in for secondary inspection at the border and got extra questions because of long absence, but they let me in because the Reentry Permit was still valid and it was less than 2 years since last departure. Then left the country again to finally finish my affairs overseas and relocate to the US permanently. Just in case, during the September visit I applied for another reentry permit, but that application was declined.

-Beginning of March 2011 (less than 6 months after previous departure), I finally quit my job overseas and moved to the US (already had a temp job lined up). Spent 3.5 months in the US until the temporary contract was over and then went travelling overseas between June and August 2011. My belongings were in the US at the time (self storage unit) and I didn't work overseas during that absence.

-End of August 2011. Arrived back to the US, found another job and haven't left the country for more than 3 weeks since then.

I've been filling out tax returns since I got the green card to meet the green card requirements even when I was overseas.

My questions are as follows:

-I understand that I broke continuity of residence between 2008 and 2011, but when can I apply for citizenship given that I need 5 years of continuous residence? My understanding is that the safest option would be to wait 5 years from September 2011. The next option would be 5 years since March 2011 (no 6+ months absence since March 2011, but 3 months absence could cause issues I suppose). Then there is a rule that if you are away with a reentry permit for over a year, you can count the last year abroad towards 5 years, which would make me eligible to apply for citizenship by now, but given how much I traveled back and forth, not sure it applies to me even if I meet the >30 months continuous presence test.

-Even if I choose what I think is the safest option (September 2016), how straightforward is this case? Are there likely to be issues? Is it advisable to get an immigration lawyer to help with my application?

Just to clarify, my intention was always to settle in the US since I received the Green Card. I would have used it right away, but didn't want to give up the job abroad and face unemployment in the US during the recession.

Any advice is highly appreciated.

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I wouldn't apply any earlier than September 2016. I'd probably apply in early 2017.


Removal of Conditions Journey

3/3/2009 - Removal of conditions - sent off packet to CSC

3/5/2009 - I-751 received in CSC

3/9/2009 - Check cashed

3/20/2009 - Biometrics notice received (no NOA1)

4/2/2009 - Biometrics

4/9/2009 - NOA1 date (first undelivered one is 3/5)

4/3/2009 - Touch?

5/6/2009 - ROC Approval - 65 days

6/22/2009 - CRIS Card production ordered email

7/7/2009 - GC arrived!

Naturalization Journey

3/03/2010 N400 sent to Arizona Lockbox

3/15/2010 Check cashed

3/17/2010 NOA1

3/18/2010 - Biometrics notice sent

3/26/2010 Early biometrics done at an ASC different from the one assigned to (Original BIO date was 4/15)

4/30/2010 Yellow letter received and info from USCIS mil line they are working on my interview letter (6/17 appt)

5/1/2010 Text and email interview letter sen

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Any travel less than 6 months will not break your continuous residency. Assuming you first got back in US March 1st 2011, you can apply in December 2015 which is the end of this year. I traveled for 3 months right after I got my GC and am now naturalized on time no problem.

Edited by huy_le

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Many people are under the impression that travel less than six months or under a year will not break your continuous residency, but this is not true.

http://www.uscis.gov/policymanual/HTML/PolicyManual-Volume12-PartD-Chapter3.html

"Absences of more than 6 months but less than one year; and

Absences of one year or more. ​

In addition, absences of less than 6 months may also break the continuity of residence depending on the facts surrounding the absence.​"

The USCIS policy manual clearly states that travel less than six months can break your continuous residency depending on the circumstances and I think (just my opinion) that the circumstances you outlined are exactly what they had in mind when they wrote this rule. You were not living permanently in the US until September 2011 and I think that you are very likely to be denied if you apply before 2016 (September might be safer, but you can apply 90 days earlier).

As you asked, even if you take the safest option you should expect a great deal of scrutiny on your case because there is a question, a valid question, of whether or not you may have abandoned your green card. Unfortunately, being readmitted by customs and border patrol is no guarantee that USCIS will not decide that your permanent residency was terminated during your absences. The situation is rare, and I wouldn't say that it's likely that they would initiate proceedings to take away your green card, but I think it is certainly possible in your case.

I really don't know how much you should worry about that issue, and I don't want to concern you too much, but I want you to be aware of the possibility. My recommendation would be that you definitely do not reply before 2016 and that you realize that the more time you accrue in the US, the more likely they are to be sympathetic and overlook your potential abandonment of your green card.


For a review of each step of my N-400 naturalization process, from application to oath ceremony, please click here.

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Any travel less than 6 months will not break your continuous residency. Assuming you first got back in US March 1st 2011, you can apply in December 2015 which is the end of this year. I traveled for 3 months right after I got my GC and am now naturalized on time no problem.

The OP's travel patter was very different from yours. Your case is clearly a case of someone living in the US going on a trip abroad.

The Op's case looks like someone living abroad and making short trips to the U.S.

Just a correction to someone you said: travel under 6 months CAN break continuous residency.


For a review of each step of my N-400 naturalization process, from application to oath ceremony, please click here.

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As you asked, even if you take the safest option you should expect a great deal of scrutiny on your case because there is a question, a valid question, of whether or not you may have abandoned your green card. Unfortunately, being readmitted by customs and border patrol is no guarantee that USCIS will not decide that your permanent residency was terminated during your absences. The situation is rare, and I wouldn't say that it's likely that they would initiate proceedings to take away your green card, but I think it is certainly possible in your case.

I really don't know how much you should worry about that issue, and I don't want to concern you too much, but I want you to be aware of the possibility. My recommendation would be that you definitely do not reply before 2016 and that you realize that the more time you accrue in the US, the more likely they are to be sympathetic and overlook your potential abandonment of your green card.

How can I minimize this risk? Would hiring a lawyer to walk me through the naturalization process help? The lawyer wouldn't be able to join me for the naturalization interview though, would they?

Another question: if I 5 wait years since September 2011, why would there even be any questions about continuing residency? I'll have a clean period of 5 years of living in in the same city and not not being absent from the US for more than 3 weeks at a time or 5 weeks per year in total. If I understand correctly, I only need to put 5 years of travel/absence history in my naturalization application, so why would the issue of extended absence prior to that even come up in this case?

Edited by Starper

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How can I minimize this risk? Would hiring a lawyer to walk me through the naturalization process help? The lawyer wouldn't be able to join me for the naturalization interview though, would they?

Another question: if I 5 wait years since September 2011, why would there even be any questions about continuing residency? I'll have a clean period of 5 years of living in in the same city and not not being absent from the US for more than 3 weeks at a time or 5 weeks per year in total. If I understand correctly, I only need to put 5 years of travel/absence history in my naturalization application, so why would the issue of extended absence prior to that even come up in this case?

Hi Starper,

If we based your application on you being here for the past 5 years( since September 2011), you would be eligible by June 2016 but if you go from March 2011 you will be eligible by December 2015.

However, I agree with Jimmy as he pointed out that you should wait a little more before applying if you are not in a hurry. I believe that even if they go by the continuous residence requirement, they also consider the general requirement of being a US resident and if they think that you were not entitled to the US residency at some point, they can base their judgement on that to deny you. I am not sure if you had applied for a reentry permit before leaving the US for 2 years but that could maybe help if you had. So maybe wait a little bit to make your residency history a little longer ( bank history, bills, etc..) I would say maybe wait by 2017

I thought I would give my 5 cent but maybe you can check with a lawyer to see what outcome you could expect in this case.

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A lawyer cannot help you get your citizensip - they gain no advantage...but they will charge you money and delay things since you have to send paperwork back and forth before they send it off. No reason not to do it yourself. The application is simple and then its just the biometrics and interview (which you're right - the lawyer cannot attend)

You don't need to have lived in the same city , there is no advantage. Whatever your date of residencey is on your GC - you can apply as early as 3 months prior to the 5th anniversary as long as you satisfy the residencey requirements with regard to vacations out of country. - you indicated your's probably reset in Sept 2011 so likely that is 3 months prior to Sept 2016

How can I minimize this risk? Would hiring a lawyer to walk me through the naturalization process help? The lawyer wouldn't be able to join me for the naturalization interview though, would they?

Another question: if I 5 wait years since September 2011, why would there even be any questions about continuing residency? I'll have a clean period of 5 years of living in in the same city and not not being absent from the US for more than 3 weeks at a time or 5 weeks per year in total. If I understand correctly, I only need to put 5 years of travel/absence history in my naturalization application, so why would the issue of extended absence prior to that even come up in this case?

Edited by Udella&Wiz

Wiz(USC) and Udella(Cdn & USC!)

Naturalization

02/22/11 - Filed

02/28/11 - NOA

03/28/11 - FP

06/17/11 - status change - scheduled for interview

06/20?/11 - received physical interview letter

07/13/11 - Interview in Fairfax,VA - easiest 10 minutes of my life

07/19/11 - Oath ceremony in Fairfax, VA

******************

Removal of Conditions

12/1/09 - received at VSC

12/2/09 - NOA's for self and daughter

01/12/10 - Biometrics completed

03/15/10 - 10 Green Card Received - self and daughter

******************

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How can I minimize this risk? Would hiring a lawyer to walk me through the naturalization process help? The lawyer wouldn't be able to join me for the naturalization interview though, would they?

Another question: if I 5 wait years since September 2011, why would there even be any questions about continuing residency? I'll have a clean period of 5 years of living in in the same city and not not being absent from the US for more than 3 weeks at a time or 5 weeks per year in total. If I understand correctly, I only need to put 5 years of travel/absence history in my naturalization application, so why would the issue of extended absence prior to that even come up in this case?

You can hire a lawyer and if you mention him on your N400 application (there's an additional form for this) he can accompany you to the interview. I don't know how helpful that would be... not saying it won't help... I just have no idea.

To answer your question: if you wait 5 years since September 2011, there won't be a question of whether or not you met the continuous residency requirement, but there will still be a question about whether or not you are still a resident at all. As I said, your travel pattern may have resulted in effective abandonment of your green card. In that case, it doesn't matter if you lived in the US afterwards, since USCIS will consider you a non-resident for all that time. Just as an example, think of someone who got their green card through fraud and then lived here for 5 years... they would not be approved because the green card was not valid. Similarly, an abandoned green card is no longer valid. I know that nothing in your case is related to fraud; this is just an example of an invalidated green card.

Again, as I mentioned earlier, USCIS often looks the other way when you have shown that you have finally settled down in the US, so while they could try to take away your green card, I don't think it is likely, especially if you apply 5 full years after your permanent return to the US. The reason I discourage you from applying early (which you may technically be able to do) is that they will usually not even look at travel older than 5 years, so you may not be asked any questions. However, they will have your travel history on record and can question you about it.

I know that I'm talking about possibilities and likely circumstances, but unfortunately you're not going to get anything more certain than this until your interview and anyone who tells you otherwise is just guessing. Here's the honest truth: you misused your green card according to the intent of the law when it comes to permanent residency and you may face some questions as a result. As someone else mentioned, the green card is for living in the US, not visiting. Now, your timeline is complicated and if you had reentry permits for all of your long absences, then the chances of losing your green card are low. Personally, I think that in any case, chances of losing your green card are low, but you can't expect to not be asked about your time abroad when you should have been living here.

The point now is to minimize risk and as you said, September 2016 is probably the way to go.


For a review of each step of my N-400 naturalization process, from application to oath ceremony, please click here.

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Thanks everybody for your replies so far.

JimmyHou, I agree that there is a small possibility that an application for citizenship could result in the invalidation of the permanent resident status under these circumstances. What could happen in this case other than not getting citizenship? I suppose the caseworker can't just take away the green card and order deportation right away. Does this process have to go through court? How long does it take? Other than deportation, what are the consequences? What happens to savings and retirement accounts in US banks? What about other property owned in the US? Does the person get banned from even visiting the US in the future in this case?

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