Preventing abondonment of your green card due to travel abroad

A GREEN card holder can travel outside the U.S. and return with some limitations.  If a green card holder is outside the U.S. for an extended period of time, he may be considered to have abandoned his permanent resident status.  Brief travel (such as for a vacation) normally will not affect permanent resident status.  However, abandonment of permanent resident status is a potential issue for green card holders who have to leave the US for an extended period of time (over 1 year) for one reason or another, such as to finish studies or work abroad.  In such situations, how can a person be prevented from losing his green card?

If a person plans to be outside the U.S. for an extended period of time (over 1 year), an application for a reentry permit must be filed.  A reentry permit establishes that one did not intend to abandon his green card, and it allows one to apply for admission to the US after being outside the US for up to 2 years without having to obtain a returning resident visa.  Reentry permits are normally valid for 2 years from the date of issuance.  A permanent resident can re-apply for subsequent reentry permits for 2 year increments 

As aforementioned, if one is outside the U.S. for an extended period of time without a reentry permit, he may be considered to have abandoned his green card.  If a person who has been outside the US for more than 1 year attempts to re-enter the U.S., he may be referred to an Immigration Judge to determine whether he has abandoned his permanent resident status.

An application for reentry permit should be filed at least 60 days prior to the contemplated extended trip outside the U.S.  While a person does not have to be present in the U.S. at the time his reentry permit application is approved, it is important to file it with sufficient time prior to the trip to allow time to receive the biometrics notice after the application is filed, and have biometrics taken.  An applicant must provide his biometrics while in the U.S.  If an applicant leaves the U.S. before biometrics are taken, the USCIS may deny the application.

What if a permanent resident has already left the U.S. and either has 1) been outside the U.S. for over 1 year or 2) been outside the U.S. for over 2 years with an expired reentry permit?  The Department of State on its website advises to apply for a Returning Resident Visa.  To qualify for a Returning Resident Visa, you must show a valid reason why your stay abroad was extended, and that the reason for the extended stay was beyond your control or for which you were not responsible.  Another (perhaps better) option would be to re-enter the U.S. –if U.S. customs denies admission due to abandonment of your green card, you will have an opportunity to argue that you did not abandon permanent resident status, here in the US before an Immigration Judge.

Obtaining a green card often is a difficult process.  For some, it takes many years.  It is accordingly important to take all steps necessary to maintain permanent resident status once attained.  If you plan to be away from the US for an extended period of time, or have been away from the U.S. for an extended period of time without a reentry permit, or a reentry permit that has expired, it is recommended that you consult with an experienced attorney.

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Darrick V. Tan, Esq. is admitted to practice law in California and Nevada.  Mr. Tan is a graduate of UCLA and Southwestern University School of Law.  He is a member of the Consumers Attorney Association of Los Angeles and is a former member of the Board of Governors of the Philipp ine American Bar Association.

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