Permanent Residents’ International Travel

For some permanent residents, naturalization (obtaining citizenship) by filing the N-400 Form becomes the next major step in the immigration process. A permanent resident’s international travel before filing a naturalization application may significantly impact the ability to file a naturalization application. Generally, after obtaining permanent residency, international travel for business, education, family visit, or leisure may not pose a problem for a permanent resident. However, the amount of time spent outside the United States becomes the critical factor affecting a permanent resident’s ability to begin the naturalization process.      

Continuous Residence

A permanent resident must reside continuously in the United States after obtaining lawful permanent residency for at least 5 years before applying for naturalization and up to the time of naturalization. If a permanent resident breaks the continuous residence requirement, she or he must establish a new period of continuous residence to become eligible for naturalization. U.S. law distinguishes the immigration consequences based upon absences of 6 months to 1 year versus absences greater than 1 year. 

  • 6 months through 364 days absence: During the period before the applicant files the naturalization application and between filing the naturalization application and the admission to citizenship, a permanent resident’s absence between 6 months and 364 days breaks the continuity of residence. If the permanent resident returns to America before the absence reaches 1 year, she may provide evidence challenging USCIS’s assumption that she disrupted the continuous residence. A successful challenge may result in the permanent resident no longer needing to restart the 5-year clock before applying for naturalization.
  • 1 year or more absence: If a permanent resident remains outside the United States for 1 year (365 days) or more during the required continuous residence timeframe, the absence will break continuous residence. USCIS will automatically conclude that the absence interrupted the continuous residence unless USCIS approved an application to preserve residence for naturalization purposes (N-470 Form).

Methods to Avoid Disrupting Continuous Residence

U.S. law includes a few methods a permanent resident may use to avoid breaking continuous residence:

  • Reentry Permit:  If a permanent resident will remain outside America for more than 1 year, she or he may wish to consider applying for a reentry permit. U.S. law requires that a permanent resident actually be physically present in the United States when applying for a reentry permit.
  • Preserving Residence for Naturalization Purposes:  Depending upon a permanent resident’s job, preserving residence may provide an opportunity to avoid breaking continuous residence for naturalization purposes. A permanent resident may file Form N-470 when an absence of 1 year or more will occur. Only permanent residents departing for more than 1 year for job-related reasons may preserve residency. To be eligible for preservation of residence, specific entities must employ the permanent resident. The permanent resident must file the N-470 Form before she or he has been absent for 1 year.

Returning Resident Visa (SB-1 VISA)

Sometimes life just happens and interrupts a person’s schedule. A U.S. permanent resident may have originally planned to return to the United States within 6 months. However, circumstances can sometimes cause the permanent resident to remain absent from America longer than anticipated. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic stranded many U.S. citizens and permanent residents outside the U.S. If a permanent resident unexpectedly remains absent for more than 1 year, she or he may apply for a returning resident visa (SB-1 visa) at the U.S. embassy or consulate.

Boarding Foil

After departing the U.S., a permanent resident card or a reentry permit can expire or become lost, stolen, or damaged. When this happens, a permanent resident may apply for a boarding foil at a U.S. embassy or consulate. During the application process, consular staff will interview the permanent resident. If approved, the consulate will place the boarding foil in the passport or on a DS-232 Form. A boarding foil acts as proof that the foreign national is a permanent resident. A consulate will not issue a boarding foil to a permanent resident who traveled outside America for more than 1 year.  Travel outside the U.S. for more than a year will require that a permanent resident obtain a returning resident visa. For reentry permit holders, a consulate may issue a boarding foil if the permanent resident was not absent from the U.S. for more than 2 years.