What “Country of Residence” and How to Know Yours When on a Visa

Posted by Frank Gogol

Immigrating to the U.S. can involve filling in dozens of complicated forms. It’s easy to get mixed up with all the different terminology being used.

One of the most common confusions arises when it comes to figuring out the difference between nationality and country of residence. These concepts relate to where you’re from, but your answer could vary depending on the context of the question being asked. 

It can get especially frustrating if you’re an immigrant applying for permanent residency in the U.S. and you’ve always been on the move between countries. 

To make this small part of your application easier, we explain the difference between nationality and country of residence (and how to differentiate between the two when filing your green card application***) below. 

Defining Country of Residence

What exactly does your “country of residence” mean? Your country of residence is the country where you are granted permission to live permanently. You also need to have lived there for the majority of the last 12 months for it to be considered your true country of residence. 

This does not include countries you may have visited in between, either for business, leisure, or visiting family on a short-term basis. 

Difference between Country of Residence and Nationality

While your country of residence and nationality sound like they refer to the same place, they actually mean two different things. However, they can both have the same answer if you happen to live and work in the country of your birth or naturalization. 

Country of Residence

Your country of residence isn’t necessarily the same as the country you have a passport for. Especially if you’re living and working in another country on a visa or have permanent residency there. 

If you’re living in a country that’s different from the country of your passport and you’re in the process of applying for a visa or permanent residency there, the country you are applying in would also be considered your country of residence. 

In the U.S. for example, this might be the case if you are a green card applicant or green cardholder. Or even if you are an H1B visa applicant or an H1B visa holder for example. 

Nationality

Your nationality would be your country of origin and would normally be reflected by the country of your passport. You are a citizen of this country and fall under its jurisdiction and protection on an international level.

You can have dual nationality if you have naturalized*** in a different country after living there for a certain amount of time. Although not all countries allow dual citizenship. 

What’s the difference?

If you only have residency in a country where you work, it means you aren’t eligible for a passport of that country and the benefits that might come with it. 

For example, as a resident in a European Union (EU) country (i.e. the EU country is your country of residence but you’re not a citizen), you may be able to move around to other EU countries for a visit. But you will only be allowed to live in your country of residence.

If you are an EU national (or citizen) with an EU passport, however, you would be able to work and live in any EU country due to the benefits of your citizenship. 

Basically, your nationality determines which country’s passport you travel with and are protected by. This is related to your citizenship. Your country of residence can be the same as your nationality if you live in that same country. But if you have a visa or permit that gives you the right to live permanently in a country outside of your country of origin, that country will then be your country of residence.

Does a visa from another country affect your Country of Residence?

The short answer is no. Your country of residence is mainly affected by how long you would stay somewhere on a visa. Your country of residence is considered to be the place where you live at least more than half of a year. The fact that you have a visa for a country doesn’t automatically make that country your country of residence if you don’t stay there for long. 

If you are a permanent resident of the U.S., but you’re out of the country for longer than a year you could lose your permanent residency. Returning to the U.S. can be complicated even if you’ve only been gone for six months.

So just getting a visa from another country doesn’t affect your country of residence unless you stay there the longest in a year. 

Country of Residence and Form I-485

The U.S. immigration Form I-485 is part of the procedure to register for permanent residence or to adjust status in America.

This can be done either through a job offer, asylee status, refugee status, or through family who are already living in the U.S. 

One of the sections in the Form I-485 will ask you to fill in your or a relative’s country of residence. The immigration officials need this information to determine where you’re currently living for communication purposes. They also need to see if there are any special considerations or country laws that might affect your application. 

Be sure to fill in the country where you are physically residing on a long-term basis at the time of submitting the form. This could very well be the U.S. itself, and not the country of your passport. 

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Conclusion

Understanding the terminology of immigration processes is important for smooth residency applications. Part of this is understanding what your country of residence is. We live in a globalized world and it’s important to know how to differentiate between where you’re from and where you’ve made a home.

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