When it comes to green cards, one of the most common questions people ask is about the impact travelling outside the United States will have on their permanent resident status. Many people don’t ever receive a solid answer to this question, and end up passing on potential vacations to avoid any trouble. This article will help answer that question. All lawful permanent residents who apply for naturalization are expected to maintain continuous residence in the US. Often that requirement is taken to mean the person must be physically present at all times, but that’s not true. It’s possible to maintain continuous residence while not physically being present all the time. There is a distinct difference between maintaining residence and being present. Maintaining residence has to do with having a place to live and a job, while being present is merely the act of being on US soil. For example, going on vacation out of the country, you would not be present but residence would still be maintained. The time requirements for how long continuous residence must be maintained are as follows:

  • The immediately preceding 36 months, if permanent residence was obtained through marriage or VAWA.
  • 60 months, if permanent residence was obtained through other means.

You must be present for half the time you maintain continuous residence too, which works out to:

  • 18/36 months, if permanent residence was obtained through marriage or VAWA.
  • 30/60 months, if permament residence was obtained through other means.

According to 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1)(i), a departure is not considered a break in required continuity as long as the break is less than 12 months, although the applicant will usually have to provide proof that continuity wasn’t broken. Proof can be shown using the following methods:

  • The applicant retined full access to their US home
  • The applicant did not receive employment while abroad
  • The applicant’s immediate family remained in the US
  • The applicant did not terminate their employment in the US

Departures of more than 12 months are considered breaks in continuity, and if broken, the applicant must wait either 4 years 1 day or 2 years 1 day to apply for naturalization, depening on how permanent residence was obtained in the first place. There is also such a thing as Abandonment of Residence, as well. If a permanent resident is determined to have abandoned residence, then they will lose their status as a permanent resident, and they may be placed in removal proceedings. The punishment for this is again, having to wait 2 years 1 day or 4 years 1 day to file for naturalization. When returning to the US, a Customs and Border Patrol officer assesses whether or not you have abandoned residence, to determine if you qualify for re-entry or not. Re-admission into the US does not mean that you didn’t break continuity of residence, however. It simply means that the officer was satisfied with the information he had. In formal proceedings (such as dealing with the Immigration Customs Enforcement ICE or United States Citizenship and Immigration Service USCIS), being allowed re-admission into the US is not proof of innocence, and it’s not unheard of for someone to return successfully from a break-in-residence, only to lose their green card years later when trying to return from a different trip. The matter of continuity is merely a matter of length of time, so many permanent residents will get a false sense of security that as long as they touch US soil every 6 months, they won’t break continuity, and will be immune to filings of abandoning residence. Also, many permanent residents will get re-entry permits, and think that this will always allow them re-entry. It is not a guarantee, however. Officers may still question permanent residents about their ties to the US, and whether actions have been taken that amount to abandonment. Please see the next blog entry for criteria to determine residence abandonment.