It’s a frightening time for immigrants. Although previous presidents have deported immigrants in large numbers, many – especially those without criminal records – felt a relative sense of normalcy. But with an administration that is outwardly hostile toward immigrant populations, any comfort previously felt is gone. As Donald Trump attempts to tighten immigration laws and cut down on even legal forms of migration into the United States, it can be difficult to keep up with the changing landscape.
That’s why we have launched the Ask an Immigration Lawyer column. Twice a month, Nubia Willman – a Chicago-based immigration attorney with nearly decade of experience – answers your questions about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and more. This column is not meant to be construed as legal advice. You should not act upon any information provided without seeking the advice of an attorney licensed to practice law in your state.
Dear Nubia: I have applied for citizenship (N-400). I just did my biometrics. First question: Am I allowed to travel out of the country – it will be for a couple of days, max 2 weeks? Second question: Could I do it more than once? Final: How long is the process taking for applicants in SoFla?
-Traveler looking for answers
Dear Traveler: Congrats on filing for citizenship! That is huge and complicated final step in a long, complicated process. Despite what many assume, you can’t “just apply” for citizenship. In order to become a US citizen, the applicant has to have been a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least five years (sometimes in special circumstances you only have to wait three years). When someone becomes an LPR, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues a special card that is often referred to as a “green card” or “mica.” LPRs are afforded the right to travel in and out of the US, and that right remains even as you wait for a decision on a citizenship application. Then, in order to be allowed back in the US, a lawful permanent resident only needs to show their green card and a valid passport from their home country.
Some things to consider before you travel: Generally, an LPR shouldn’t stay outside of the country for more than six months in one year. Living or traveling outside of the US for large periods of time runs the risk of disrupting the continuous presence you must show to be eligible to become a citizen. But short trips, even multiple ones, are more than OK. Second, keep track of the time you spend outside of the US because Immigration will want to know those dates. Finally, if you’ve had any interaction with police, either prior to filing your citizenship application or after, please talk to an immigration attorney about the specifics of your case to make sure there’s no risks when you re-enter the country.
As for processing times, it really depends on the type of petition and where it’s being processed. USCIS has a useful online tool (found on USCIS.gov) that allows you to check processing times for each type of application at each service center. The tool has the most up-to-date timeframes that will let you gauge how much longer your application has to go. If it seems you’re close to a decision, maybe hold off on travel so that you don’t risk missing your citizenship interview.
Disclaimer: The information on this column is not legal advice. Legal information is not the same as legal advice, which is the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. The information provided in this column is not a substitute for and does not replace the advice or representation of a licensed attorney. Although Remezcla goes to great lengths to make sure the information on the column is accurate and up to date, we make no claim as to the accuracy of this information and are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of this column.
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