Can I Travel Outside the United States While My Citizenship Application is Being Processed?

Can I Travel Outside the United States While My Citizenship Application is Being Processed?

1. Introduction

Overview of the citizenship application process

The process of applying for U.S. citizenship, also known as naturalization, requires individuals to fulfill certain eligibility criteria, complete required forms, and undergo an interview and a naturalization test. The goal of this article is to answer the question: “Can I travel outside the United States while my citizenship application is being processed?”

Importance of understanding travel restrictions during the process

Understanding travel restrictions is crucial as leaving the U.S. during your application process can affect your eligibility for citizenship and in some cases, result in the abandonment of your application. This article will provide guidelines on navigating this issue.

2. The process of applying for U.S. citizenship

Eligibility requirements

In order to apply for U.S. citizenship, applicants must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a lawful permanent resident status (green card) for at least 5 years (or 3 years if married to and living with a U.S. citizen)
  • Have maintained continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.
  • Demonstrate good moral character
  • Have a working knowledge of English and U.S. history and government
  • Pledge loyalty to the United States

The necessary forms: N-400 and N-600

Two primary forms are used in the citizenship application process:

  1. Form N-400 – Application for Naturalization: This form is for eligible permanent residents to apply for U.S. citizenship (source).
  2. Form N-600 – Application for Certificate of Citizenship: This form is for individuals who automatically acquired citizenship at birth or after birth but have not yet received proof of citizenship (source).

Processing time

Processing times for citizenship applications may vary depending on the applicant’s location and USCIS workload. As of October 2021, the average processing time for Form N-400 ranges from 6 months to 24 months, and for Form N-600, it ranges from 9 months to 22 months (source). It’s important to note that the processing times can change and applicants should check the USCIS website for the most updated information.

3. Understanding the risks of traveling during your citizenship application

Possible abandonment of the N-400 application

Traveling outside the United States while your citizenship application is being processed poses risks. One significant risk is the possible abandonment of your N-400 application. Leaving the U.S. for an extended period or failing to return for your naturalization interview, typically results in the automatic abandonment of your application (source).

Impact on continuous residency requirement

Continuous residence is one of the essential eligibility requirements for U.S. citizenship. Leaving the U.S. for an extended period can break this continuous residency requirement, which may affect your citizenship application (source). Absences of 6 months or longer are more likely to disrupt the continuous residence requirement. Trips shorter than 6 months will generally not affect continuous residence; however, extended trips can raise questions about your commitment to residing in the U.S.

Delays in application processing due to travel

Traveling during your citizenship application process may cause delays. While outside the U.S., you might miss important notices, appointments or interviews scheduled by USCIS. Although you can reschedule, this can prolong the processing time for your application.

Travel limitations set by USCIS

USCIS generally discourages applicants from traveling abroad during their application process to ensure they remain eligible for citizenship and available for required appointments. However, applicants can obtain prior permission to travel through an Advance Parole document (source).

4. Traveling with a valid green card (Permanent Residency)

Traveling as a permanent resident

While permanent residents (green card holders) are allowed to travel outside the United States, they should be aware of certain limitations and documentation requirements to avoid jeopardizing their status or citizenship application (source).

Validity and importance of documentation

To maintain their status as permanent residents and to re-enter the U.S., green card holders must travel with valid documentation, including a valid green card and a valid passport from their country of citizenship (source).

Re-entry permits for longer stays abroad

If a permanent resident plans to remain outside the U.S. for a year or longer, they may need to apply for a re-entry permit (Form I-131) before leaving the country to maintain their green card status and avoid questions regarding their continuous residence (source). The re-entry permit is generally valid for two years and allows a traveler to re-enter the U.S. without losing their resident status. However, obtaining a re-entry permit does not guarantee that the applicant’s continuous residence requirement for citizenship will not be affected.

5. Using an Advance Parole document

When and why Advance Parole is needed

Advance Parole is a travel document that allows certain individuals, including those with pending adjustment of status applications or other immigration benefits, to travel outside the United States and return without jeopardizing their applications (source). It’s important to note that Advance Parole is generally not granted for individuals in the naturalization process, except in cases where the citizenship applicant also has a pending adjustment of status application. If you’re applying for citizenship and have a pending adjustment of status application, you may need to obtain Advance Parole before traveling outside the U.S.

How to apply for Advance Parole (Form I-131)

To apply for Advance Parole, you need to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document (source). The following documents should be submitted with the form:

  • Two passport-style photographs
  • A copy of a government-issued photo identification (if available)
  • A copy of any document showing your current status in the United States
  • Proof of a pending adjustment of status application or other eligibility for Advance Parole
  • Evidence of the purpose of your trip (e.g., medical or family emergency)

Traveling with Advance Parole and its limitations

Traveling with an Advance Parole document has certain limitations:

  1. Advance Parole does not guarantee your re-entry into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers will determine your admissibility upon your return (source).
  2. If your Advance Parole document expires while you’re outside the U.S., you must obtain a new one before returning.
  3. Advance Parole does not exempt you from meeting the continuous residence requirement for citizenship. A lengthy absence, even with a valid Advance Parole document, can negatively affect your citizenship application.

6. Exceptions for traveling during your citizenship application

Military service members and their families

Special rules apply to military service members and their families when it comes to the naturalization process and travel. Members of the U.S. military who qualify for expedited or overseas naturalization are not required to have continuous residence or physical presence in the U.S. Similarly, the spouse, child, or parent of a service member applying for naturalization can also be exempt from these requirements (source).

Other exemptions and considerations

Other less common exemptions and considerations for traveling during the citizenship application process may include:

  1. Diplomatic or official travel: If you work for the U.S. government or international organizations and your travel is related to your job, your absence may not break your continuous residence.
  2. Religious missions: Absences for religious mission work, under some circumstances, may not interrupt the continuous residency requirement (source).

It’s crucial to remember that exceptions and special considerations might not apply to every situation. Consult with an immigration attorney or USCIS for guidance on your specific circumstances.

6. Exceptions for traveling during your citizenship application

Military service members and their families

Special provisions allow U.S. military personnel and their families to travel during their citizenship application process. Under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program and the Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative, service members who meet certain criteria can apply for naturalization without needing to fulfill the usual residency or physical presence requirements (source). Furthermore, military members stationed abroad can maintain their continuous residence during their service, even if they are outside the United States.

Other exemptions and considerations

In some cases, USCIS may consider granting exemptions to the travel restrictions during the citizenship application process. These exemptions are determined on a case-by-case basis that takes into account the applicant’s specific circumstances. For instance, some applicants might receive permission to travel for humanitarian reasons, such as a family emergency, urgent medical treatment, or attending a funeral (source).

7. What to do if you need to travel

Informing USCIS and rescheduling appointments

If travel outside the United States during the citizenship application process is unavoidable, it’s crucial to inform USCIS promptly. Applicants must respond to any requests or notices and reschedule appointments as necessary to avoid automatic abandonment of their application (source).

Gathering and maintaining proper documentation for travel

When traveling during the citizenship application process, ensure all necessary documentation is in order. This includes carrying a valid green card, a valid passport from your country of citizenship, and any relevant travel documents, such as an approved re-entry permit or Advance Parole document (source).

Staying updated on your application status

Keep track of your citizenship application status and any communication from USCIS, even while abroad. Use USCIS’s online case status tool to monitor progress and stay informed about any changes or requests (source).

8. Conclusion

Recap of key points and advice for potential travelers during citizenship application process

In conclusion, while traveling during the U.S. citizenship application process is not prohibited, it carries risks that may impact continuous residence, processing time, and potentially result in the abandonment of the application. Exceptions exist for military service members and their families, as well as certain humanitarian situations. If travel is necessary, be sure to communicate with USCIS, gather proper documentation, and stay informed about your application’s progress. Ultimately, the decision to travel during the citizenship application process should be carefully considered and weighed against the potential risks and consequences.