Dear Mrs Walker-Huntington,
First and foremost, I want to commend you for the job you are doing with regard to the advice you give readers in The Gleaner. I have always read your column, and I have seen where you have given good advice on immigration matters.
My question regards the amount of time I need to be present in the United States (US) before I can apply for naturalisation.
I have been a lawful permanent resident since November 2007. However, I have spent time outside of the US since then and therefore would like to know if at present I am qualified to apply for naturalisation.
I have also worked and filed my taxes for times that I was in the country. The time spent outside the country, for a total of 18 months over the time period, is as follows:
2008 - four months
2009 - five months
2010 - seven months
2012 - two months.
Thank you for your kind comments.
The requirements to qualify for US citizenship are many and are primarily:
1. Must be a green-card holder for five years, or three years if you obtained residency through marriage to a US citizen, and after the three years you are still married to and living with your US citizen spouse (must be proven). You are permitted to apply for citizenship 90 days before the relevant qualifying period.
2. Must be present in the US for at least half the qualifying period.
3. No absence from the US for six months or more during the qualifying period.
4. Must be a person of good moral character, e.g. file taxes, no arrests/convictions, pay child support.
If you have had your Green Card for five years, you have met the first requirement. The physical presence requirement of half the five years is 913 days, or 30 months. However, just being present in the US for 913 days can be insufficient as US Citizenship & Immigration Services can look to your domicile intent, i.e. where have you demonstrated that you are actually residing? You can be domiciled in the US and work outside the US in certain limited instances.
Once you have been outside the US for six months or more, you have broken the continuous presence requirement and must restart the citizenship clock once you return to the US. In your case, you would have to restart your clock after your seven-month absence.
You indicated that you filed taxes for the periods that you were in the US. However, as a permanent resident or a citizen of the US, you are required to file taxes on your worldwide income regardless of where you are living and or working. You should consult with a tax expert who is versed in both Jamaican and US tax laws and the double-taxation treaty that exists between Jamaican and the US.
If you did not have that seven-month absence, you could have late-filed your taxes and filed your application for citizenship.
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal & personal injury law in Florida. She is a mediator, arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org