What is the 4 Year 1 Day Rule for U.S. Citizenship?

Updated on April 4, 2024
At a Glance: The 4 Year 1 Day rule applies to lawful permanent residents who broke the continuity of their residence and had an original statutory required period of continuous residence of 5 years. Once continuous residency is broken, a new period begins and you must be physically present in the U.S. for a minimum of 4 years and 1 day before reapplying for naturalization. Eligibility for naturalization also involves meeting other requirements such as lawful admission, continuous residence, physical presence, good moral character, and passing English and civics tests.

Many requirements apply to an application for naturalization. Many of them relate to the condition to be present in the U.S. for a specified amount of time. This is where the 4 year 1 day rule comes in. 

What is the 4 year 1 day rule, and does it apply to you? What are other factors to consider when applying for naturalization? We look at these questions and other important considerations below. 

What is the “What is the 4 Year 1 Day Rule” for U.S. Citizenship?

One of the eligibility requirements for naturalization is you must have been physically present in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for 5 years. If your spouse is a U.S. citizen and you obtained your lawful permanent residency through them, this period will be reduced to 3 years. If you break this period of required continuity, the 4 year 1 day rule will apply if your original statutory required period of continuous residence was 5 years. If your original statutory required period of continuous residence was 3 years, the rule would be reduced to 2 years and 1 day. We look at how you could break your period of continuity in more detail below. For now, we’ll focus on the rule itself.

The 4 year 1 day rule mostly works as follows. Once you’ve broken continuous residency, a new period will begin to run on the first day you return to the U.S. Form the day you must stay in the U.S. for a minimum of 4 years and 1 day before you can apply for naturalization again.

Who Does the What is the 4 Year 1 Day Rule Apply to?

The 4 year 1 day rule applies to permanent lawful residents who were required to be in the U.S. for a continuous period of 5 years but who broke the continuity of their residence. The period of 4 year 1 day applies before you can apply for naturalization again.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Naturalization

There are many requirements and eligibility criteria you have to meet to become a naturalized citizen. Below are 5 questions you can answer that will address the main requirements so you can see whether you will qualify for naturalization.

1. Were you lawfully admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident?

Before you can file for naturalization, you must first be lawfully admitted as a permanent resident of the U.S. If you obtained your permanent residency by willful misrepresentation or fraud or if you were granted a green card in error, you don’t meet the lawful admission as a permanent resident requirement.

Before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants you U.S. citizenship, it will review your lawful permanent resident status. If you were granted permanent resident status by mistake, it will deny your Form N-400 and also probably institute removal proceedings against you.

2. Have you continuously resided in the U.S. for at least 3/5 years?

As we’ve explained above, to be eligible for naturalization, you must have resided in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident for a continuous period of at least 5 years. If you are a qualified spouse of a U.S. citizen, this period is reduced to 3 years. You can file your application for naturalization up to 90 days before you’ve reached this 5 or 3 year milestone. This period is known as the 90-day early filing period.

Maintaining continuous residence requires you to maintain a permanent dwelling or principal residence in the U.S. You are allowed to travel while you maintain this status as long as you don’t have a single absence which is long enough to “break” continuity for naturalization purposes.

There are two types of absences that could break continuity in this context.

The first is an absence of more than 6 months but less than 1 year. This absence doesn’t automatically break continuity, but it is presumed to break continuity unless you prove to the USCIS otherwise. Evidence you could present would be showing you kept your job in the U.S. while traveling abroad, keeping your physical residence in the U.S., or even having strong family ties in the U.S.

The second absence is an absence of one year or more. This absence absolutely breaks continuity unless you have a Form N-470 Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes.

If you break continuity in one of the above instances, the 4 year 1 day rule (or 2 year 1 day rule) we explained above, will apply.

3. Have you been physically present in the U.S. for at least half the continuous residence period?

This question is basically asking whether you meet the Physical Presence requirement for naturalization. It requires you to have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the total 5 year period (or 18 months of the 3 year period if the reduced period applies) before filing your Form N-400.

This requirement is different than the question whether you continuously resided in the U.S. It looks at the total days outside and inside of the U.S., irrespective of whether it was a continuous period.

Note, you must also have resided in the USCIS district or state where you claim to reside when applying for at least 3 months before filing your Form N-400.

4. Are you a person of good moral character?

Your application for naturalization also has a “good moral character” requirement. You need to prove you showed good moral character in the 5 years before you applied for naturalization. Note, your conduct before this statutory period will also be relevant, and the USCIS is not limited to only looking at your conduct during the last 5 years.

The USCIS will consider things such as your criminal history or whether you’ve lied on your naturalization application. Certain criminal convictions will permanently bar you from establishing good moral character. These crimes include murder or committing an aggravated felony such as rape. Other offenses will only be conditional bars to establishing good moral character. This temporary bar will be triggered by acts or offenses in the statutory 5 year period for naturalization and includes offenses such as theft.

5. Can you pass the English and civics tests?

Finally, to be eligible for naturalization, you must be able to read, write, and speak basic English. During your naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will give you a test for this. You will need to write a specific phrase in English, and you will receive a sentence to read aloud to the USCIS officer.

You also have to know the form and principles of the U.S. government and the fundamentals of U.S. history. You will write a test with 10 civics questions, and to pass, you have to answer 6 correctly. It’s essential to study for the civics test as you will only have one opportunity to retake the test if you fail the first time.

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Final Thoughts

Now you know the answer to what is the 4 year 1 day rule. You probably also have a good idea of whether you qualify for naturalization. If there is one important lesson learned, it’s to plan well before you travel. You don’t want too many long holidays or traveling stints to influence whether you can become a U.S. citizen.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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