Obtaining a green card and becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) allows immigrants the opportunity to live and work permanently in the United States.
However, permanent residents do have certain responsibilities, including meeting minimum stay and continuous residency requirements. Failure to meet these requirements could potentially lead to losing your green card status. Here’s some information from an experienced citizenship and naturalization lawyer.
What is the Continuous Residence Requirement for Green Card Holders?
Green card holders are expected to maintain continuous residence in the United States. This means you must make the U.S. your permanent home.
According to USCIS policy, permanent residents must meet the continuous residence requirement from the time they obtain permanent resident status until they apply for naturalization.
To meet the continuous residence requirement, green card holders must:
- Remain physically present in the U.S. for over half of the required residency period
- Avoid single absences from the U.S. longer than 6 months
- Avoid multiple or frequent absences totaling more than 365 days during the applicable residency period
For most green card holders, the required continuous residency period is 5 years (or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen). This means you must show that you lived in the U.S. continuously over the 5 years leading up to filing your naturalization application.
Even short trips outside the U.S. can count against the continuous residence requirements. The key factors are the duration of absences and whether you maintained ties and a permanent home in the United States.
What Are the Physical Presence Requirements?
In addition to continuous residence, green card holders must meet certain physical presence requirements.
To be eligible for naturalization, you must be physically present in the United States for:
- At least 30 months out of the previous 5 years
- At least 18 months out of the previous 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen
This means you need to have spent at least 180 days each year within the territory of the United States over the required time period.
When calculating physical presence, USCIS will count all the days you were present in the U.S., including partial days. Any single absence longer than 6 months (182 days) or total absences exceeding 365 days could disrupt your continuity.
How Do Extended Absences Impact Green Card Status?
Taking an extended trip or residing abroad for a long time can put your lawful permanent resident status at risk. This occurs when permanent residents are seen to have “abandoned” their U.S. residency.
According to USCIS policy guidance, any absences that do not align with the continuous residence and physical presence requirements may be interpreted as abandonment of status.
Red flags include:
- Living or working abroad for extended periods
- Having your spouse or dependents reside abroad
- Failing to file U.S. tax returns
- Not maintaining a residence or job in the U.S.
- Taking frequent or lengthy trips outside the U.S.
To avoid coming under scrutiny, it is recommended that LPRs limit single absences to less than 6 months and total time abroad to less than 180 days per year.
Of course, certain exceptions apply, as outlined below. But in general, spending more than half of your time outside the U.S. can put your green card status in jeopardy.
How to Preserve Your Green Card if Moving Abroad
For green card holders who must relocate abroad or travel frequently for long periods, there are steps you can take to preserve permanent resident status:
- File Form AR-11 to update your U.S. address if moving overseas
- Maintain ties to the U.S., such as bank accounts, property ownership, filing U.S. taxes, and membership in American organizations.
- Limit continuous trips abroad to less than 1 year to avoid disruptions in continuity.
- Apply for a re-entry permit (Form I-131) for trips longer than 1 year.
- File Form N-470 to preserve residence for naturalization purposes
These measures demonstrate that you do not plan to abandon your LPR status despite your extended absences.
If you remain outside the U.S. for over 2 years, you may need to apply for a special immigrant visa to re-enter as a lawful permanent resident. Consulting with a family immigration lawyer is highly recommended in these situations.
Exceptions to the Continuous Residence Requirements
U.S. immigration law accounts for circumstances that could reasonably cause a permanent resident to be absent from the United States for an extended period.
As long as the green card holder did not intend to abandon residency, the following exceptions apply:
Time spent overseas on behalf of a U.S. corporation or company, U.S. government, or other qualifying institutions may not disrupt continuous residence. You must show that you were physically present in the U.S. at least 1 year before employment abroad and returned within a reasonable time after employment ended.
Full-time students studying abroad are still considered continuous residents in the U.S. unless they claim non-resident status for tax purposes or become subject to the residency laws of another country.
Members of the U.S. armed forces and spouses/children of military members retain continuous residence status during foreign deployment.
Ministers, priests, monsignors, nuns, and religious workers can maintain continuous residence abroad doing missionary work on behalf of a U.S.-based organization.
Necessary stays abroad for medical treatment do not constitute a break in U.S. residency. However, permanent residents must clearly demonstrate that the primary purpose of travel was to obtain medical treatment that was unavailable in the United States.
In all these cases, permanent residents must still prove they did not intend to abandon U.S. residency during their time abroad and took reasonable steps to return as soon as possible.
Maintaining Permanent Resident Status While Living Abroad
As a green card holder, you can travel internationally and live abroad for periods. However, you must preserve your permanent resident status by adhering to U.S. residency and physical presence requirements.
Consult the Law Office of Lina Baroudi if you need assistance maintaining your green card during foreign residency or travel. An attorney can help safeguard your status and eligibility for citizenship.