Traveling outside the U.S. is not a right that a permanent resident gives up when he or she receives a green card, but the process for exiting and reentering is a bit different for a permanent resident than a citizen. Knowing the details will help make the process easier to understand and follow.
Preparing To Travel Outside The U.S.
If a time comes where a permanent resident needs to leave the U.S. temporarily, he or she will need a few documents.
- Carry a passport from the country of origin or a refugee travel document. You are NOT given a United States passport unless you are a United States citizen, so you will need to keep the passport of the country of your birth and/or citizenship current. You can renew your passport from your home country inside the United States.
- Bring any documentation (visas, etc.) required by the country to which the resident is traveling.
- If traveling outside the U.S. for more than six months at a time or for more than a total of twelve months over the period of five years, it is wise to complete a re-entry permit. This is a Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. You will need complete documentation, photos and to pay the appropriate fees.
How Long Can You Stay Outside The U.S.?
When someone is granted permanent resident status, it is with the understanding that the person is intending to make the U.S. his or her permanent home. It is usually seen as the big step prior to trying to obtain citizenship. Traveling outside the U.S. for extended periods of time can be viewed as an indication that there was no true intention of becoming a permanent resident and eventual citizen. If that determination is made, permanent residency can be revoked.
So, how long can a permanent resident travel outside the U.S. without jeopardizing his or her status? If you are outside the United States for more than six months at one time are in jeopardy of “abandoning” their permanent resident status. A Re-entry Permit establishes the resident's intention to not abandon the residency. It allows him or her to reapply for entry to the U.S. up to 2 years after leaving.
It is critical that the Re-entry Permit is done prior to leaving the U.S. if you are a permanent resident. It cannot be filed from outside the country to prove that you always intended to return. It needs to be done no later than 60 days before going abroad, except in emergency cases.
What Happens If You Are Gone Longer Than 2 Years?
If a permanent resident stays outside the U.S. for longer than 2 years, the Re-entry permit becomes invalid. At that point, the resident must apply for a returning resident visa at the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Don't put your permanent residency in jeopardy if you have to travel outside the U.S. Get to know the facts before you leave. If you need clarification, talk with the immigration attorney Cindy Goodman at Stockard, Johnston, Brown & Netardus, P.C. in Amarillo, Texas.