You’ve been waiting for this period for more than five years! Now it’s here, but you have some plans to travel abroad. But can you really travel during the naturalization process? Read on to get more facts and answers.
After being a permanent US resident for over five years, you are all fired up to apply for US citizenship. You want to get over with the neutralization process and acquire your citizenship. But, one thing that bothers most people, is how their traveling plans will be affected – will they be able to travel during the naturalization process, and if so, how will it affect their application?
Well, when applying for naturalization, it means that you’ve already been a permanent US resident for a minimum of 5 years. During this time, you have been traveling abroad as a green card holder, with your travel being subjected to some restrictions like; a trip duration of fewer than six months.
What changes happen to your international travel after filing N-400 – do the same international travel restrictions still apply? Before we get down to the travel requirements let’s first take a look at some important facts:
How Do I Become a US Citizen?
There are several ways of becoming a US citizen, whether or not you were born in the country. These include:
Being Born in the US (Citizenship by Birth)
Under US law, all persons born within the US territories automatically become US citizens. This includes persons born in Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana, and the Virgin Islands.
Citizenship by Acquisition
This is where a child not born in the US, automatically acquires citizenship through the parents. It happens if at the time of birth, at least one of the parents was a US citizen, although subject to several other requirements.
When such children give birth, their kids also assume US citizenship automatically.
Citizenship by Derivation
After a parent acquires citizenship through naturalization, their kids automatically “derive” citizenship, as long as they are US permanent residents. For this to happen, these children must be below 18 years of age.
When a child acquires US citizenship via derivation, they don’t need to undergo the naturalization process themselves.
Citizenship by Naturalization
Persons not born in the US can also become citizens through the naturalization process. This includes a voluntary process where people request to be granted citizenship in the United States.
There are, however, several prerequisites for one to become a US citizen via naturalization. The primary requirement is that one has to be over 18 years, and the application falls into any of these three categories.
- Permanent resident for over 5 years
- Permanent resident for over three years, but have been married for a minimum of 3 years by a US citizen
- Qualifying services like the US Armed Forces
This means that even people born outside the US can become citizens by applying through Form N-400.
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Basic Requirements for Naturalization Application
For anyone to apply for naturalization, they must meet the following basic requirements:
- Have attained the age of 18
- Be a permanent resident (green card holder) for at least five years. This may, however, vary for some people.
- Continuous residence for at least three months in the state you are applying to, prior to the application filing date.
- Prove to possess good moral character as per the constitution’s principles
- Attain a certain continuous residence period, with a physical presence in the US
- Proficiency in basic English writing, speaking, and reading, with comprehension of US history and civics.
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Can I Travel After Filing the US Citizenship Application?
Normally, travel during the citizenship process is permitted. Since by the time of application, you are already a permanent US resident/green cardholder, you are allowed to travel while you await your citizenship.
However, before you travel, there are several essential things you must consider.
Things to Know About Travel during Naturalization and Citizenship Process
Whereas international travel during naturalization is permissible, you must fulfill the following requirements:
Continuous Residence and Physical Presence
These are two terms that usually confuse people during the US citizenship application process. To better understand these requirements, let’s first see their actual meaning.
Continuous Residence – this refers to the amount of time you’ve actually stayed in the US before you make your citizenship application. In most cases, it’s five years but some people get exemptions – like when your spouse is a US citizen.
Since travels outside the US can affect your continuous residence, you should avoid trips that are longer than six months. Physical Presence – this considers the actual days you were physically in the US. You are required to be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months of the entire five years before you can file your application.
Here’s a good example to make it even clearer: Let’s assume you took a two weeks vacation to Paris 2 years prior to your application. During this vacation, you are still a resident in the US, and the two weeks will count when fulfilling your continuous residence requirement.
However, the same two weeks are excluded when counting the physical days you were in the US. This means that they don’t contribute to your physical presence requirement.
Length of Your Travel
If you wish to travel outside the US, the length of your trip also matters. Although you are allowed to travel as a permanent resident, you should first consult. An immigration lawyer can advise you accordingly before you travel.
In case you have to travel, make sure that the days you stay abroad, have no impact on the continuous residence requirements.
Also, any travel when applying for citizenship will continue to impact your physical presence requirement negatively. Be sure that your travel won’t lead to the N-400 application denial.
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Can you travel outside the US while awaiting citizenship? While you might want to travel, you should consider how you’re going to attend all three crucial naturalization appointments. You don’t want to disrupt the application processing.
The USCIS schedules a biometrics appointment a few weeks after your application. This means that despite permission to travel during biometrics, you should have a way of availing yourself when the appointment is due.
You can ensure that you don’t miss this by having someone check your emails and alert you when you are needed for the appointment.
Better still, some USCIS service centers allow walk-ins for biometrics. If your center is one of those, you can just visit them and submit your biometrics. This way, you can travel abroad without worry.
The next important appointment on the list is the naturalization interview. This one comes several months after your biometrics appointment, and you must also be present for it.
The last stage is the oath ceremony appointment. Here is where you take an oath for official citizenship. And, while it’s possible to reschedule some of these appointments, it might reflect negatively on you, and can even cost you your chance of earning that citizenship.
Therefore, as you plan for international travel, make sure that you consider all these appointments and be available. When you consult an immigration lawyer, they will in most cases, advise you to first halt your travels until the process is over. This helps you to avoid any mishaps in the process.
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Exceptions to the Continuous Residence Requirements
Even with all the restrictions, some people are exempt from these continuous residence conditions. Persons in the US armed forces, religious workers, researchers, government employees, and some specific business travelers, are not subject to the requirements.
Nevertheless, persons who want this privilege must file another form known as Form N-470. This Form, “Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes,” is used by permanent residents in the US who must travel abroad for periods longer than a year.
It helps them to retain their immigrant status for naturalization pursuance. Apart from filing this form, the applicants must fulfill the following:
- They must be lawful US permanent residents, physically living in the US for one year before the contract to work abroad.
- The applicant should file the N-470 Form, before the one-year of staying abroad lapses.
Lawful, US permanent residents are permitted to travel outside the US and freely come back, upon proof of valid residency (green card). Extensive travels might, however, negatively affect your permanent resident status, and can lead to the rejection of the US citizenship application.
The law requires you to avoid travel that exceeds six months unless you’ve filed for the N-470 Form with the USCIS. By staying for long periods abroad, it might be assumed that you abandoned your immigrant status.
This can subsequently lead to the rejection of your N-400 application. You should also note that the USCIS officers will scrutinize your travels throughout the permanent residency period. For these reasons, you shouldn’t play the tricky games that some people play, as they will be detected.
And, they can lead to the rejection of your application. For instance, multiple trips abroad that seem calculated to fit the continuous residence requirements can cost you your application. Some people will travel for like five months abroad, come back to the US for a few days, and travel again.
This pattern will trigger an alert with the USCIS officers. If you want to travel, only travel when it’s necessary and make sure that you follow all the requirements. The whole purpose of these requirements and processes is to determine how genuine the applicant is.
They help to ascertain that the applicants are not only out to exploit the benefits that come with being a US citizen.
The USCIS officers will do everything to establish that you truly want and deserve citizenship. In addition, the process shows how willing you are to integrate with other Americans and how long you are ready to stay in the US.
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Conclusion: Travel During the Naturalization Process
In general, travel during the naturalization process is not prohibited. However, after travel, you’ll have to prove permanent residency in the US, before re-entering the country. This means that you have to provide your green card as proof.
Also, for any travel decision you make during this period, make sure that it will not affect your citizenship application in any way. If you have all the facts, you can avoid any mishaps in the process, even if you travel. It won’t be fair to wait for all that time, only to get a denial because of something you could have avoided.