Can you travel outside the U.S. after filing for naturalization?Posted on Monday, March 19, 2012
Many of our permanent resident clients (“Green Card” holders) express an interest in traveling abroad after filing for naturalization but are not sure if this would be permissible. As with most immigration questions, the information available online or through word of mouth can be very confusing. To better understand the law, it is helpful to look at an actual case involving a person who found herself in this situation.
Recently, we were approached by a permanent resident, an Israeli citizen, who needed to travel back to Israel after filing her N-400 Application for Naturalization. She was facing some serious health problems and felt that she could get better care in Israel at a more affordable cost. Her need to travel for medical care was quite urgent, so postponing the trip until after she received her U.S. citizenship was not a good option. Our client’s biggest fear was that leaving the U.S. after filing for naturalization might lead the USCIS to deny her application.
Based on our experience, we advised her there should be no problem traveling to Israel for the care she needed. She did, however, need to wait to travel until after her fingerprints were taken. The fingerprinting or “biometrics” appointment notice is sent by mail, and usually arrives a few weeks after filing the N-400. We advised our client not to book her flights until she knew the date of this appointment. We then suggested that she plan to travel as soon as possible after the biometrics appointment. Since she was planning to return in two weeks, it was unlikely that she would receive the appointment notice for her naturalization interview until after she returned.
However, it is impossible to predict the timing of any step in an immigration process. Since missing the interview could be grounds for denial of her citizenship, she also made plans for someone to open her mail every day while she was away, and alert her if there was any correspondence from the USCIS. This way, if she did receive her interview appointment, she could either cut short her travel (our recommendation) or request that USCIS reschedule the interview.
The law states that no person will be naturalized unless they have maintained continuous residence in the U.S. between date of filing and date of interview. But what does “continuous residence” mean? What if our client needed to stay in Israel longer than she initially planned? Continuous residence as it applies to naturalization is generally described as having no absences from the United States of six months or more. This applies to both the period immediately preceding the filing of the N-400 application (usually five years) as well as the period between the date of filing and the date of the naturalization interview. An absence of more than six months and less than one year requires the person to prove that they did not intend to abandon their permanent residence.
We discussed these rules with our client, and gave her some additional guidance about how to prove she had not abandoned her permanent residence if she could not return to the U.S. within six months. On our suggestion, she took a number of additional precautions: taking an official leave of absence from her job, keeping all of her U.S. bank accounts open, keeping her home in the U.S., and accepting no employment while in Israel. These are some of the most important factors used to determine continuous residence.
Because of her careful planning, our client had the peace of mind she needed to travel to Israel for her medical treatments. She returned before her naturalization interview without incurring any penalty. During her interview, she was asked about the overseas trips she had taken since becoming a permanent resident, beginning with the ones already listed on her application. When asked about any other trips that were not listed on the form, she told the officer about her recent trip to Israel. The officer recorded this information on her form. When the interview was over, her application was granted.