Naturalization (the process of getting US Citizenship or a green card) has some eligibility requirements. One of those requirements is for an applicant to be physically present in America legally as a permanent resident for 5 years.
This period can be reduced to 3 years if you have a spouse who happens to be an American citizen and you got lawful permanent residency through them.
What is the 4 year 1 day Rule for US Citizenship?
If your original statutory timeline for continuous residence is 5 years, the 4-Year, 1-Day rule will apply. If the original statutory timeline for continuous residence is 3 years, the 2-Year, 1-Day rule applies.
The 4-year 1 day rule is simple. If you break continuous residence (travel outside the US), a new period starts to run when you return. From the day of return, you must stay in America for at least 4-years and a day before you are eligible to reapply for naturalization.
The rule applies to lawful permanent residents required to stay in America continuously for 5 years but are unable to do so (break continuous residence). It also applies to absence that exceeds a year.
The rule follows continuous residence guidelines. Individuals who are absent from the US continuously for over a year during a period of continuous residence automatically disrupt their residency application. Such individuals must wait for 4 years and a day starting from the day of their return to resume their permanent residence.
Therefore, it is critical for immigrants who want to seek naturalization to be extremely careful about breaking permanent residency. Ideally, you should travel out of the US once you meet residency requirements.
What happens if your duration of absence is 6 months or less?
You don't need to defeat the presumption of breaking continuous residence if you just travel outside the US for 6 or fewer months. Eligibility for naturalization remains even if you travel for over 6 months but not more than a year. However, in such a case, you must overcome presumption of breaking continuous residency.
If you stay outside the US for over year without seeking approval from the USCIS via a special process (N-470), you risk losing eligibility to naturalization. The N-470 process aims to preserve residence in a naturalization process. Using Form N-470, you can preserve your status to pursue naturalization. Immigrants with a legal permanent resident status who wish to live in the US for over a year because of reasons such as employment can fill Form N-470 and avoid being subjected to continuous residence rules like the 4-year, 1-day rule.
To avoid jeopardizing your chances of getting US citizenship, it's important to understand the continuous residence requirements and the time required to re-establish your eligibility for citizenship following a year or more of absence. The 4-year, 1-day rule speaks to the requirement for individuals required to observe a statutory timeline of 5 years of continuous residence but break residence by traveling outside the US for a year or more!