Keeping Your Green Card After Traveling Abroad
Under most circumstances, as a new lawful permanent resident (LPR), you have nothing else to do once the green card arrives, except to be sure to notify USCIS within 10 days of a change of residence (Form AR-11), and to be sure to renew the green card prior to the expiration date on the card by filing Form I-90.
The issue of maintaining lawful permanent residence, therefore, normally only arises when as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) you are returning to the U.S. from an overseas trip.
1. Keep in mind you have no assured right to return to the U.S.
When an LPR seeks to reenter the United States, she is actually applying for admission if absent for over six months. Returning LPRs are not subject to any numerical restrictions, are relieved of certain documentary requirements and may, in some cases, obtain a waiver of certain grounds of excludability. Nevertheless, LPRs have no vested interest which assures them of a right to return if they depart from the United States.
As far as at least one court is concerned, an LPR returns from a “temporary visit abroad” only when the visit is for “a period relatively short, fixed by some event” or “will terminate upon the occurrence of an event having a reasonable possibility of occurring within a relatively short period of time.”
2. Remember the fundamental requirements for returning LPRs
- Intention to remain an LPR
- The absence abroad must be temporary – normally less than six months. After six months Customs and Border Protection has the right to begin to question the reasons for the stay overseas and the intent of the LPR in continuing to maintain the U.S. as the principal place of residence.
3. Be Prepared to prove the following factors when establishing your intent upon return
- Purpose for departing. The LPR should be able to articulate a definite reason for proceeding abroad temporarily.
- Termination Date. The visit abroad should be expected to terminate within a period that is relatively short, fixed by some early event – less than six months. If unforeseen circumstances cause an unavoidable delay in returning, the trip would retain its temporary character, so long as the LPR continued to intend to return as soon as the trip’s original purpose was completed.
- Place of employment or actual home. The LPR must intend to return to the United States as a place of employment or business or as an actual home. She must possess the requisite intention to return at the time of departure, and must maintain it during the course of the visit.
4. Be prepared to show evidence of a continuous, uninterrupted intention to return to the U.S.
Some of the factors that could be used to determine intent by the courts include family ties, property, business affiliations, amount of time the LPR resided in the U.S. prior to the absence, and family, property and business obligations abroad. Other ties that have been considered include maintaining U.S. bank and credit card accounts, maintaining a current driver’s license in the state of last residence, voting in U.S. based elections not requiring U.S. citizenship, maintaining local library cards, and renewing memberships in professional organizations.
5. Bring the following documents when entering as a returning LPR
- Valid unexpired immigrant visa or other valid entry document at the time of application for admission.
- For absences of six months or less: A returning LPR’s Form I-551 (i.e. green card) is a sufficient entry document. However, after an absence of six months, the LPR will need additional documents outlined in item #3 above to explain the temporariness of the overseas visit and the permanence of the U.S. home.
- For absences of greater than one year: The returning LPR must be in possession of a re-entry permit or an immigrant visa issued by a U.S. consulate located abroad.
6. Obtain a re-entry permit for absences of close to one year or longer – up to two years
If you are a departing LPR who plans to be absent for a significant period of time – anywhere from six months up to two years – it would be advisable to first apply for a re-entry permit. For absences of more than one year you must present a re-entry permit. In addition to serving as a valid entry document after long absences, re-entry permits provide evidence of the LPR’s intent. However, a re-entry permit does not guarantee readmission to the United States.
Re-entry permits are valid for not more than two years from the date of issuance and are not renewable. An applicant for a reentry permit must submit a sworn written application to the CIS and must be in the U.S. at the time of filing and for biometrics. The re-entry permit can be mailed to a foreign address.
7. Consider Applying for Naturalization prior to departure
If you are eligible for naturalization as an LPR you could apply to naturalize to become a U.S. citizen before leaving for extended travel abroad. The requirements for citizenship require (1) continuous residence as an LPR within the U.S. for at least five years (three years if based on marriage) before the application is filed; (2) physical presence in the U.S. for at least half of that time; (3) residence of three months’ in the state or district in which the application is made; and (4) continuous residence within the U.S. from the date of the application up to the time of admission to citizenship. While an LPR may meet the first three naturalization requirements by filing before an extended absence, she may find it difficult to “reside continuously” in the U.S. from the time of filing until he or she is admitted to citizenship. An absence of more than six months but less than a year will break continuity of residence unless the LPR establishes that he or she did not abandon LPR status. There are some exceptions to these rules, particularly regarding certain overseas employment for oneself or one’s spouse
8. Be sure to bring other evidence if you find yourself trying to re-enter the U.S. with an expired green card or if you have lost your green card.
Because a returning LPR must present a valid, unexpired Form 1-551, Permanent Resident Card (green card), if you lose your green card or your green card expires while abroad it is advised to enter the U.S. with other evidence of LPR status. For example the U.S. Embassy in London advises that in the case of an expired green card, an LPR may travel with the expired card providing the card was valid for ten years, she has not been outside the U.S. for more than one year and the expired green card is the only deficient document. Evidence to establish that the LPR has not been outside the U.S. for more than one year could include previous boarding passes for trips to the U.S., credit card or bank statements with U.S. activity and previous U.S. immigration stamps, which may be in the current or recently expired passport.
9. Obtain a transportation letter in the case of a lost green card
If your green card has been lost or mutilated while abroad, you may request a transportation letter from the nearest U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office abroad. You should be prepared to provide evidence that you have been in the U.S. in the last twelve months, a valid passport, photographs, and proof of upcoming travel to the U.S.
10. Upon arrival in the U.S.
- Apply for a waiver upon entry if unable to obtain a transportation letter
If you are unable to obtain a transportation letter, you may still be admitted to the U.S. upon establishing an un-relinquished residence and good cause for failing to present a green card to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. A waiver application at a port of entry is made on Form I-193, Application for Waiver of Passport and/or Visa. If an LPR must travel without a green card or transportation letter, the LPR would be well advised to carry the type of evidence to establish presence in the U.S. in the last year, similar to that which would be required for a transportation letter.
- Apply for new green card immediately upon entry back into the U.S.
An LPR who requires a new green card because it was lost or stolen should make an application for the new green card without delay upon entry to the U.S. using Form I-90. Once you have the receipt of filing, it is possible to schedule an appointment at your local immigration office to obtain a temporary green card stamp until your new green card is issued. Because a green card is so valuable and the loss or misplacement of it can cause so much trouble, we always advise clients to make a photocopy of their green card, front and back, and keep a copy with them on a trip and another copy with a trusted person back home.