Preserving naturalization rights outside the U.S.

Q. How will spending two years abroad impact my right to naturalize? I have been a permanent resident since March 2006. I would like to apply for U.S. citizenship in December 2010. Since becoming a permanent resident, I haven’t traveled abroad, but now I want to go abroad for two years to take care of my parents’ business. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service issued me a reentry permit valid for travel for up to two years.
– Sekou Bathily, New York

A. To preserve your right to naturalize, you need to spend at least one day here each year. If you do that, and you have proof that the United States remained your primary residence, you can naturalize after five years of permanent residence.
If you are out of the U.S. for one continuous year or more, you’ll then qualify to naturalize four years and one day after your return.
Your reentry permit preserves your right to reenter the U.S. after long absences abroad, but it does not preserve the continuous residence needed to naturalize.
Readers should note that employees working for the U.S. government, an American research institute, a U.S. firm engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce, or a public international organization the U.S. is a member of, can get approval to preserve their residence after a trip of one year or more by filing USCIS Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes.
One last point: to naturalize, you’ll need to have been in the U.S. for at least half the days in the five years prior to applying.

Stays in Canada
Q. How long can my sister stay in Canada without risking her permanent residence? I am a U.S. citizen. I petitioned for my sister, a Canadian citizen. The U.S. Consul in Canada granted her an immigrant visa in November. Her daughter is in law school, and she would like to stay in Canada with her. How long can she stay in Canada before making her first entry into the United States? Can she visit the U.S. periodically and keep her permanent residence?
– Doris Brijlall, New York

A. Usually, a U.S. consular officer abroad will issue an immigrant visa valid for entry for six months. That means that your sister must enter the U.S. at least once before the end of that period. When she makes that first entry, she will become a U.S. permanent resident. Then, if she wants to spend time abroad, she should apply for a reentry permit valid for up to two years.
She must apply for the permit while in the U.S., but she can travel abroad while her permit application is pending. Your sister might also want to establish a mailing address and bank account in the U.S. as proof of her intention to reside here.
If she visits periodically and starts living here once her daughter graduates, she has a good chance of keeping her immigrant status.

Kudos for the column
Q. I just want to say a big “THANK YOU” for your column in the New York Daily News. I have been reading it for years. I came here originally as a student, and after many years I recently became a U.S. citizen. Your columns were a big help.
- Anon, New York

A. How very good of you to write. I have been writing this column for more than 11 years now, and I never get tired of receiving letters like yours.
I expect that during the coming months, we will see an increase in public debate over possible changes in U.S. immigration law. I look forward to educating my readers about the latest in U.S. immigration law and policy. I’m hopeful that many will benefit from my advice. And, congratulations on getting U.S. citizenship!

Visa Waiver Program update
Starting Jan. 12, 2009, individuals visiting the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program must obtain approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization at least 72 hours before traveling to the U.S. You can apply online and get more information about the program at https://cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta/.

Allan Wernick is a lawyer and director of the City University of New York Citizenship and Immigration Project. He is the author of “U.S. Immigration and Citizenship - Your Complete Guide, Revised 4th Edition.” Send questions and comments to Allan Wernick, Daily News, 450 West 33rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10001. Professor Wernick’s web site is www.allanwernick.com.

Allan Wernick’s Immigration column is reprinted from the Thursday, December 11 edition of The New York Daily News.

More from Around New York