Green Card Holders Stuck Outside of U.S.
Since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, travel in and out of the United States has been restricted to varying degrees, and now it appears that it might get even more difficult to come back into the U.S. in the next few months. Because of this, our firm has been getting a lot of questions from U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders) about whether their permanent resident status will be jeopardized because they are unable to get back to the U.S.
In this article, we will talk about the applicable time limits on how long a permanent resident can stay outside of the U.S., and most importantly, we will tell you what you can do to protect your permanent resident status if you are stuck outside of the U.S. If, after reading this article, you have more questions about travel abroad as a permanent resident, then we invite you to contact us at Ashoori Law. Feel free to call us at +1-818-741-1117 or you may schedule a free consultation by clicking this link.
Basic Timelines for Permanent Residents Traveling Abroad
To begin, lets cover some of the basic timelines that you should know if you are a lawful permanent resident traveling outside of the U.S.
- Lawful Permanent Resident Outside of U.S. for 180 Days or Less: In many cases if you’re outside of the U.S. for 180 days or less, this generally does not pose a substantial risk to your permanent resident status (assuming special circumstances don’t apply). In general, if you are outside of the U.S. for 180 days or less, then your permanent resident status should not be at risk when you travel back to the U.S.
- Lawful Permanent Resident Outside of U.S. Over 180 days But Less Than 1 year: If you’re outside of the U.S. over 180 days but less than one year, that could trigger heightened scrutiny by Customs and Border Protection when you seek reentry to the U.S. They may inspect to determine whether you abandoned your status as a lawful permanent resident.
- Lawful Permanent Resident Outside of U.S. for a Year or More: If you’re outside of the U.S. for a year or more, your green card is no longer valid to permit you to re-enter the U.S. This can be seriously problematic. In many cases, if a lawful permanent resident stays outside of the U.S. for a year or more (without a valid reentry permit) then they will have to apply for a SB1 returning resident visa to return to the U.S.
During this time of the pandemic, a lot of permanent residents who were planning on coming back before the one-year mark are now in a situation where they are facing a lack of flights along with travel restrictions preventing or limiting travel back to the U.S. This has posed many challenges for U.S. lawful permanent residents, who now risk jeopardizing their green card status.
What to Do to Protect Your Permanent Resident Status When Traveling Abroad
As you can see above, your permanent resident status is impacted by how long you have been outside of the U.S. So, here is a quick guide to what you should do based on the length of time you have been abroad.
- Return within six months if you can. If it is at all possible for you to safely travel back to the U.S. and you can get a flight, then it is best if you come within 180 days. As noted above, if you have been outside the U.S. for 180 days or less, the risk of jeopardizing your permanent resident status is relatively low.
- Return before one year if you can. If you have been away for 180 days or more, you should still try to come back to the U.S. before one year if you can safely do so.
- Return before the expiration of your reentry permit if you can. If you have been outside of the U.S. for over a year but you have a valid reentry permit (which is a travel document specifically for lawful permanent residents), then you should make sure that you reenter the U.S. before the reentry permit expires.
Now, if you are like many permanent residents abroad during this pandemic, then the three scenarios above may not apply to you. In other words, you may be in a situation where you are without a reentry permit, and even though you planned on coming back to the U.S. before a year, you are worried that you will not be able to get a flight back before you pass the one-year mark.
If you are in that situation, then you should start putting things on the record with your local United States consulate or embassy. That means that you should contact the local U.S. consulate or embassy and let them know your situation. Let them know that you intended to come back to the U.S. sooner, but you have had difficulty getting a flight back because of the pandemic. Also, be sure to keep track of your contacts with the consulate or embassy by (i) saving the emails you send, (ii) keeping a copy of the letters you send, or (iii) keeping a diary of the phone calls you make. You should also contact USCIS to inform them of your current predicament. Additionally, you should keep any documentation showing your attempts at securing travel back to the U.S.
Why Should I Contact the Local U.S. Consulate or Embassy? In Preparation to Apply for a Returning Resident (SB-1) Visa
There is a special visa that is available for just the kind of scenario that is happening now during this pandemic. If you feel that you are stuck outside of the U.S. for reasons beyond your control, then you may be eligible to apply for a Returning Resident (SB-1) visa. The SB-1 Returning Resident visa is precisely for green card holders who stayed outside of the U.S. for longer than 1 year based on circumstances beyond their control. To obtain this visa, it is helpful to start compiling evidence now to support the reason why you stayed outside the U.S. longer than you anticipated.
To be eligible for a Returning Resident (SB-1) visa, you need to prove to a Consular Officer at the local U.S. consulate or embassy that you:
- Had the status of a lawful permanent resident at the time of departure from the United States;
- Departed from the United States with the intention of returning and have not abandoned this intention; and
- Are returning to the United States from a temporary visit abroad and, if the stay abroad was protracted, this was caused by reasons beyond your control and for which you were not responsible.
Accordingly, proof of your efforts to returning to the U.S., contact the U.S. consulate or embassy as well as USCIS, before you hit the one-year mark will be very helpful in obtaining the Returning Resident visa if you ultimately need to apply for one.
The pandemic has caused a lot of confusion with regard to travel plans. The information above can help you figure out the best way to protect your permanent resident status in the U.S. if you are struggling to return to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. As we discussed, if you are a permanent resident and your time abroad is coming close to the one-year mark yet you see that travel back to the U.S. is restricted, then you should start compiling evidence to be used in your application for a Returning Resident (SB-1) visa.
My name is Michael Ashoori and I'm a U.S. immigration lawyer and the founder of Ashoori Law. As an immigration lawyer, I help families, professionals, investors, and entrepreneurs get visas, green cards, and citizenship to the United States. If you have any questions, feel free to schedule a free consultation by clicking this link.
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Michael Ashoori, Esq.
U.S. Immigration Lawyer
I’m a U.S. immigration lawyer and I help families, professionals, investors, and entrepreneurs get visas, green cards, and citizenship to the United States.
Since starting my law firm, I’ve helped hundreds of people from all over the world with their immigration needs. I’m very passionate, hard-working, and committed to my clients.
Got a question? Send me an email.