Citizenship

When traveling back and forth to a foreign country exceeds half the year, this can add an element of uncertainty to a citizenship application. There is an important term the government uses to map a permanent resident’s time in the U.S. It is called ‘continuity.” Continuous U.S. residence can be broken by traveling and working in a foreign country.

There are two basic requirements for U.S. citizenship.  One is good moral character. The other is to live at least half of the year in the U.S.  You must be living in the U.S. most of the year to 1) keep your green card or 2) apply for citizenship.  There are few exceptions.

Generally, an applicant must wait three or five years as a green card holder before applying for citizenship. This time is counted very carefully on the N-400 citizenship application form.   After the required three or five years pass, a green card holder submits forms to the government along with supporting documents. These forms are then reviewed by a government official and approved by this official. There is also an exam and an English test.  The government has a lot of leeway in approving applications.  Even if your application is denied, you can take it to another government court to appeal a denial.

So let’s take an example of travel that will cause an official to deny an application for U.S. Citizenship.  Here is an actual case of a Chevron employee.

The details of the case were as follows. The applicant spent more than half the year working abroad for a gas company “subsidiary” of Chevron.  The reviewer was not persuaded that the subsidiary the applicant worked for was in fact a U.S. company. If the employee worked for a U.S. company, this would fall under an exception to the continuous residence requirement for citizenship.

In October 2010 this application for citizenship was denied by an immigration officer. On appeal, the court found the subsidiary company was in fact a U.S. company because company shares were traded on the U.S. stock exchange.

Here is an example of how a government immigration official opinion may be overruled on appeal. It also shows how there are exceptions to rules that may apply in individual cases, depending on the facts of the case.

Thankfully, our system has checks and balances to offer people who want to become citizens a second chance.