Many lawful permanent residents with a green card assume that after three, perhaps five years of lawful permanent resident status, they should file for U.S. Citizenship by Naturalization. This may be an expensive and unwise idea.
Some should consider filing to preserve continuous physical presence. Others should reconsider decisions to leave the U.S. to live abroad. A decision to leave the U.S. for an extended period can result in the loss of a green card through abandonment. A person must find a way to demonstrate that they have no intent to give up their resident status. Otherwise, they can have trouble not only with naturalization but when they try to return to the U.S.
In deciding whether a person has enough continuous physical presence for naturalization, a potential applicant must be reasonable with themselves and their attorneys. Here are some questions to think about.
How did you qualify for lawful permanent resident status?
Was the adjustment/admission as a lawful permanent resident ("LPR") based upon Asylum/refugee status, employment, or family?
If so, are there concerns about the way that resident status was obtained?
If family, which family member petitioned you?
If marriage, then are you still married? Also, did you remove the condition on your permanent resident status, yet?
Did you return to the U.S. as an LPR while you were working in another country?
Did you file an application to preserve your residence for naturalization purposes? If so, was it granted?
How may days were you actually outside the United States before each return visit?
Did you file an application for a re-entry permit before you left the U.S. for a planned extended period outside the U.S.? If so, was it granted and did you use the permit?
A continuous stay outside of the U.S. of 180 or more days may require an applicant to re-start the three or five year continuous physical presence period for naturalization.
Advanced planning is the best protection. If a lawful permanent resident has the proper situation, then no re-entry permit may be needed. An LPR can seek employment with an organization outside the U.S. where they can file in advance to preserve their continuous physical presence for naturalization.
In most situations where continuous physical presence is a challenge, it is recommended to have an experienced immigration attorney review the situation before departure. The N-400 filing fee is now $675, which makes most appointments at an experienced immigration attorney's office appropriate and reasonable planning.
The above is general information and does not create an attorney client relationship.