How to Maintain a Green Card When Leaving the U.S. for More Than One Year

As a green card holder, you are permitted to enter and re-enter the United States multiple times if you do not intend to stay outside the United States for one year or more. If you intend to stay outside of the United States for one year or more, there are extra steps you must take in order to secure your status as a legal permanent resident (LPR).

When planning to spend a year or more abroad, prior to departing the United States, you must submit an application for a re-entry permit (I-131) with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Upon returning from overseas while the permit is still in effect, a lawful permanent resident or conditional permanent resident may apply for admission to the United States without first needing to obtain a returning resident visa from a U.S. Embassy or from a U.S. Consulate. Re-entry permits typically remain in effect for two years after they are issued. As a result, entrance into the United States may be refused if you remain abroad for a longer period of time than the date the permission was issued.

For conditional permanent residents, the re-entry permit will only last as long as your conditional green card period. If you do not follow these precautionary measures to protect your status, your green card may be considered to have been abandoned due to your travel out of the U.S. for one year or more.

A returning resident visa (SB-1) is not needed in most cases where a re-entry permit was already obtained. A returning resident visa is required for LPRs who have stayed abroad for longer than one year or past the validity of their re-entry permit. An LPR applying for an SB-1 visa most provide evidence of their LPR status, intent to return to the U.S., and prove that their overstay was beyond their control.

Once an SB-1 is filed, the consular officer will review the evidence submitted along with your application to determine your eligibility to obtain the SB-1. The most important thing to note is that the determination by the consular officer is final and there is no appeal process. Reinstating LPR status after overstaying your permitted stay outside the U.S. is challenging. The SB-1 visa applications are strictly reviewed and are difficult to obtain. An SB-1 will only be approved if the applicant can demonstrate that there were extenuating circumstances beyond their control that prevented them from returning to the U.S, and is scrutinized for a subjective review by a consular officer.

If you have overstayed your permitted stay outside of the U.S., contact us for a consultation.