When applying for naturalization, there are multiple requirements related to residence in the United States. And one of the most important ones is the physical presence requirement.
Many applicants often confuse the physical presence and continuous residence requirements. Although they are related, they are not the same thing. And just because you meet one of them does not mean that you will meet the other.
Here, we’ll discuss the physical presence requirement and how it differs from the continuity of residence requirement.
What Is Naturalization?
Before diving into the specifics of the physical presence requirement, it’s worth first reviewing the naturalization process.
So, what exactly is naturalization? Naturalization is another name for officially becoming a United States citizen.
The main form that you’ll fill out for this application is called Form-400. The naturalization process usually takes around a year or so once you’ve completed the main requirements.
Physical Presence Requirement: The Basics
Physical presence is fairly straightforward. It refers to the number of a days the applicants was physically present within the United States. If you travel abroad, USCIS will count the day you leave and the day you return when calculating how many total days you spent in the country.
What is the usual physical presence requirement? In most cases, it is half of the time that you live continuously in the United States. For a typical applicant, this means 30 months of a 60 month continuous residency.
Distinguishing Between Physical Presence And Continuous Residence
Continuous residence refers to the period in which you maintain your primary residence in the United States. That means that you have some form of residence in the United States that you consider your main home.
Physical presence, as we saw above, refers to the proportion of your time that you actually spent in the United States. It is counted by USCIS in days, so that they know exactly how much time you spent in the United States. It’s usually proved with a Permanent Residence Card, in addition to a wide range of supporting documents.
Why is it important to distinguish the two requirements? Because meeting one of the requirements does not mean you meet both.
Some people believe that they met all requirements, assuming that completing one automatically means you’ve completed the other. But there are cases where applicants met one requirement but failed to meet the other.
For example, an applicant could be present in the United States for more than half of a five year period, meaning that they’ve met the physical presence requirement, while still failing to meet the continuous residence requirement due to a prolonged trip outside of the country. In this case, USCIS would almost always reject the application.
Or you could meet the continuous residence requirement by living in the United States for at least five years, but not meet the physical presence requirement because you spent too much time out of the country.
Remember, just owning a property in the United States is not enough to prove that you are a continuous resident. You have to demonstrate that this residence is your primary residence, not just a place you spend part of your time.
Defining Physical Presence And Continuous Residence
Physical presence is also easier to define than continuous residence. Physical presence simply refers to the number of days you were in the country. It’s easy to keep track of, and there is usually little confusion with the requirement.
Continuous residency, however, can be difficult to track. Many applicants leave the country for prolonged periods, but still maintain a property in the United States. Depending on the specific cases, USCIS may still count this period as part of the continuous residence.
Because these two requirements can often be confusing, it is worth speaking to an experienced immigration attorney. They can help you figure out what your specific requirements are, and make sure that you have met them.
Proving Physical Presence
Many applicants think that possession of a Permanent Resident Card is enough to prove physical presence. This card is given to Lawful Permanent Residents, (LDRs) and is a way of documenting that they are legal residents of the United States.
Although you should always make sure you have your Permanent Resident Card, it is important that you have additional supporting documentation to prove that you were present within the United States. This can help improve your case, and clarify any periods where USCIS believes you might have left the country.
What type of information will you need to provide to prove physical presence? There’s a wide range of different documentation that you can provide, such as school transcripts, tax returns, pay stubs, letters of employment, receipts for rent payments, and credit card statements.
The best way to convincingly prove that you were physically present is to have a mix of different documents. This will confirm your presence in the country, and make it hard for even the most skeptical immigration agent to reject your application.
USCIS will then review the documentation you provide, as well as your testimony, to decide if you have met the physical presence requirement. Try to find information that is as exact as possible. If USCIS has any doubts about your application, these specific details could make a big difference in your case.
And always make sure that any information you provide is completely accurate. Even if most of the documents you give are correct, mistakes can cost you, and can make USCIS doubt your testimony.
Reapplying After Failing To Meet Physical Presence Requirement
If you submit an application for naturalization and are rejected because you failed to meet the physical presence requirement, you may wonder how long you have to wait to reapply. The usual time period is four years and a day after the initial application was submitted.
However, there may be some exceptions to this. If you are worried that your application may be rejected because you failed to meet the physical presence requirement, you should speak to an immigration attorney.
They can help you decide what your next steps should be, as well as see if you fall under any of the exemption categories.
Exceptions To The Standard Physical Presence Requirement
Although the requirements for most applicants is 30 months of physical presence within a five year period of continuous residence, there are some special cases where the requirements are different, and you don’t have to be physically present in the United States.
Applicants who are married to someone serving in the U.S. Armed Forces may be able to get an exemption to the physical presence requirement. If you have been authorized to live abroad with a member of the Armed Forces, you can count this time as time spent within the United States. Do note, however, that any time spent travelling while abroad may not be counted toward your physical presence requirement.
If you are applying for naturalization as the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you may be able to receive an exemption and apply for naturalization after three years of continuous residence, with a requirement of 18 months of physical presence.
Any applicant who receives LPR status as a result of domestic abuse also has shorter requirements for continuous residence and physical presence. These requirements are usually a physical presence of at least 30 months throughout a continuous residence of 60 months. These numbers, however, might vary depending on the case.
Other Exceptions To The Physical Presence Requirement
There are other cases where the amount of time that you have to spend in the United States may be less than what would be required from a standard application. Such cases included applicants who have served in the Armed Forces or are married to someone who has served, certain government employees and contractors, and specific members of the media.
The naturalization process can be quite complicated. That’s why it’s always a good idea to speak to a skilled immigration attorney. They can walk you through any questions you might have about physical presence requirements, a
In almost every case, an applicant will have to be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months of a 60 month period of continuous residence in the country. But there are many exceptions to this rule.
That’s why you should consider speaking to a skilled immigration attorney about your case. They can help ensure that your case is handled properly and that you take advantage of any exemptions that may be available to you.
At Monument Immigration, our only focus is immigration law. We work with you directly to build a strong application. We can also prepare your application within two days of receiving all of your documents, ensuring that you never miss a deadline.
We know that finding the right immigration attorney can be stressful. That’s why we offer free consultations, where we advise you on what legal options you have.
If you have any questions about the physical presence requirement, or about any part of the immigration process, contact us today.