Don't Lose Your Green Card Due to Long Absence from the U.S.

(1) Re-entry Permit  

If you're a lawful permanent resident (LPR) and know in advance that you'll be outside the United States for more than a year, you may want to apply for a re-entry permit from USCIS. This will allow you to stay away for up to two years. Your re-entry permit will serve as your entry document when you are ready to return. Re-entry permits are not renewable and can only be applied for within the United States. If you intend to stay away for more than two years, you must return briefly and apply for another Re-entry Permit.  

(2) Returning Resident Visa  (SB-1)

If you are a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or conditional resident (CR) and are unable to return to the United States within the validity period of your green card (1 year) or the validity period of your re-entry permit (2 years), you will need a new immigrant visa to enter the United States and resume your permanent residence.    

You must apply for a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You must convince the U.S. consular officer that your absence was temporary and that you never intended to abandon your U.S. residence. You must provide evidence that you have been absent for more than one year due to unforeseen circumstances. Such evidence may include a letter from a physician stating that you or a family member had a medical problem. These approvals are discretionary, which means they are basically doing you a favor and can always say no.  

You will need to be interviewed for both your petition for returning resident status and usually later for the immigrant visa. An SB-1 applicant must establish eligibility for an immigrant visa and undergo a medical examination. Therefore, both visa processing fees and medical fees must be paid.  

(3) Typically, the biggest hurdle is when you actually return to the United States and interact with a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. 

The officer who greets you will ask questions to determine if you have abandoned your permanent residence if you took a trip for more than six months, and you really have some explaining to do if your trip lasted more than a year. The CBP officer will look at the reason for your trip, how long you intended to be gone, and what caused you to be gone so long. You can also abandon your permanent residence by taking multiple trips, no matter how long, if you don't really spend much time in the United States overall.  

But the fact that you made it back to the United States is no guarantee that USCIS won't take another look at your naturalization application and decide that you did, in fact, abandon your U.S. residence. For more information, see how Absences from the United States impact eligibility for U.S. citizenship.

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