Pursuing U.S. citizenship is a pivotal step for permanent residents, particularly those seeking long-term opportunities in the United States. U.S. citizenship offers enhanced benefits and protections beyond what is available to permanent residents.

To obtain U.S. citizenship, permanent residents must meet certain residency and physical presence requirements. For EB-5 investors and their derivative beneficiaries, meeting the residency requirement may have already occurred while awaiting adjudication of their I-829 petitions.

Regardless of whether an I-829 petition remains pending, eligible EB-5 investors and their derivative beneficiaries can submit their naturalization application 90 days prior to the five-year anniversary of obtaining the conditional green card. The applicant must demonstrate at least 30 months of physical presence in the United States as a permanent resident within the five years immediately preceding the filing of Form N-400. Continuous permanent residence in the United States for a minimum of five years, without leaving for trips exceeding six months, is also required. Any one trip that is more than 180 days breaks the presumption of continuous residence and, absent extenuating circumstances, will restart the five-year clock. In almost all cases, absences of more than 365 days break the continuous residence and reset the clock. To calculate days of absences, applicants need to carefully review their number of days spent outside the United States to ascertain their eligibility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to extended absences for many EB-5 investors and dependents, exceeding the 180-day limit. Although they may still be admitted to the United States by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who understand the challenges of travel during the pandemic, these extended absences still interrupt continuous residence. COVID-19-related circumstances alone cannot be used as a valid defense for such interruptions. Therefore, EB-5 investors and dependents who have plans to naturalize should carefully manage their overseas trips and make sure they do not travel for more than six months. For those who traveled on a reentry permit and stayed outside the United States for six months or more, that time spent abroad disrupts continuous residency, as the reentry permit only safeguards permanent residency, not continuous residence.

The prolonged processing times for I-829 petitions have significantly delayed EB-5 investors and their derivative beneficiaries’ naturalization process. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic and thus the current I-829 processing time is 66 months. While I-829 approval is a prerequisite for naturalization application approval, applicants can still file for naturalization even if their I-829 remains pending due to adjudication backlogs. This helps applicants secure their place in the queue and may put them ahead of others. Once the I-829 clears, their journey to citizenship may be accelerated.