CLINIC and its affiliates have long advocated naturalization for all eligible permanent residents. In the Religious Immigration Section of CLINIC, we echo this sentiment and strongly encourage religious workers to pursue naturalization. While there are numerous resources to help a foreign national learn U.S. history, understand government structure, and become proficient in English, there are several other requirements that are not as easily overcome.
Before a foreign national can pursue naturalization, he or she must be a permanent resident for five years. Many of our clients contact us to begin the naturalization process as soon as they reach the five-year mark. However, the five-year mark is just one of numerous requirements that must be met to apply for naturalization.
One of the most important—and yet often overlooked—requirements is that of continuous presence. The permanent resident must have resided continuously in the United States for at least five years after receiving permanent resident status. The presence requirement must be met immediately prior to the filing of the naturalization application.
This requirement is problematic for many of our clients who often travel abroad for extended periods for missionary work. The fact that a foreign national used a reentry permit to reenter the U.S. after an extended period abroad does not affect the requirement for continuous presence. In fact, a permanent resident is automatically presumed to break the continuity of residence if he or she is absent from the United States for six months or more.
In certain circumstances, there may be the option to apply for relief from the continuous residence requirement. However, to qualify for this relief, the foreign national must have resided inside the United States for one continuous year at some point after obtaining permanent residency. Also, the religious organization would need to be able to provide a detailed explanation of the reasons for the multiple extended trips abroad.
Additionally, a foreign national must reside in one location for at least three months prior to the filing date of the application. For our clients who often travel around the United States, advance planning may be required to satisfy this requirement. Once the application is filed, the foreign national should plan to remain inside the United States until the naturalization process is complete. Even with a valid reentry permit and permanent resident card, a foreign national should not plan any international trips during this time period.
Permanent residents must also be able to show that they have physical presence for at least 30 months of the five years immediately preceding the filing of the naturalization application. Please remember that the requirements for physical presence and conditional residence are similar but not the same.
If a permanent resident routinely makes trips abroad, we would encourage them and their religious organization to consider whether the foreign national will pursue naturalization. If so, the foreign national should contact a RIS attorney for further advice regarding how to plan for naturalization.