Q: I applied for US citizenship by submitting the n-400, but I have 2 trips within the last 5 years that lasted 9 months. What can I do?
A: Among many other requirements, those who apply for naturalization need to show they meet continuous residence and physical presence.
Continuous Residence means the applicant has resided in the US for 5 years before applying, or resided continuously for 3 years if he or she is a qualified spouse of a US Citizen. Trips outside the US that last more than 6 months can disrupt continuous residence, as can trips longer than 1 year.
Physical Presence means the applicant was physically present in the US more than half of the time. Applicants need to show they were present in the US for thirty months or more within the last 5 years (or 18 months out of the last 3 years for qualified spouses of US Citizens.) Also, US law requires that applicants have resided for at least 3 months in state where they apply for naturalization before submitting the application.
Since you mentioned two trips that were between 6 months and 1 year, this response will focus on continuous residence, though you should also check to make sure you meet physical presence requirements. This information is meant to be general and review the most common situations. For specific advice related to your case, be sure to speak with a qualified immigration attorney.
Presumption that continuous residence is broken, and how to overcome this presumption: USCIS presumes that an absence of more than 6 months, but less than 1 year breaks continuous residence. While your intent is not considered, you can overcome this presumption by submitting certain evidence.
If you’ve already submitted your N-400, you should be prepared to submit this evidence in one of two ways. You can either send it in response to a request from evidence from USCIS, or bring it to your naturalization interview with USCIS.
Evidence: The best evidence to submit will show that you 1) did not terminate your employment in the US, 2) your immediate family remained in the US, 3) you retained full access to your US abode, and 4) you did not obtain employment while abroad. An attorney could help you gather and organize the best evidence for your case.
Additionally, if your spouse is a member of the Armed Forces and your trips abroad were related to official military orders, you may qualify for an exception, and your time abroad would not impact continuous residence. Speak with an attorney, and/or review information from USCIS when gathering this type of evidence.
Trips abroad longer than 1 year: For those with trips greater than 1 year, there are very few exceptions for maintaining continuous residence when an applicant has a trip greater than 1 year. The most common exception is available for travel related to certain types of employment and involves completing form N-470 before or during the first year of a trip longer than 1 year. This would not apply in your situation since you mentioned your trips were only 9 months.