Permanent residents, also known as green card holders, have the privilege of living and working in the United States, along with other benefits. However, there are several ways one can lose their permanent resident status. Several actions can trigger removal (deportation) proceedings and the potential loss of their U.S. residency. One of the most common ways is by (unintentionally) abandoning their green card status by traveling abroad for an extended period of time without prior approval.
Next, we will answer some of the most common questions about maintaining your permanent residency:
- How long can a green card holder stay outside the United States?
- What should I do if I need to stay outside of the U.S. for an extended period of time?
- What is a re-entry permit?
- What happens if my re-entry permit expires while I am outside of the U.S?
- What is the best strategy to avoid green card abandonment?
- Where can I find additional information about this process?
How long can a green card holder stay outside the United States?
Permanent residents may travel outside the United States. Vacation, family engagements, tourism, and business are all legitimate reasons for temporary travel abroad. Keep in mind that temporary is the key word here because permanent residents who are absent from the United States for extended periods risk abandoning their U.S. residency. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) official website, remaining outside the United States for more than one year (without prior approval) may result in a loss of Permanent Resident status.
When a permanent resident reaches a U.S. port of entry and is questioned by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, the officer will try to determine the reasons for your trip abroad and your intent to maintain the U.S. as the principal place of residence. It is best to be prepared and proactive to avoid issues with green card abandonment.
What should I do if I need to stay outside of the U.S. for an extended period?
Need to take care of a sick family member, attend a funeral or even tend to your own medical needs? These are valid and common examples of why green card holders may need to travel outside the U.S. for an extended time. With the correct preparation and planning, you can travel abroad and tend to your matters with peace of mind.
If you plan on traveling abroad for more than one year, you should apply for and obtain a re-entry permit. You can apply for this permit through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before your departure. It is critical to note that you cannot apply for one outside of the U.S., so make sure to apply before you leave.
What happens if my re-entry permit expires while I am outside of the U.S?
A re-entry permit is only valid for two years from the date of issuance. It cannot be changed or extended. If you stay outside of the U.S. past the date on your re-entry permit you may be denied entry back into the U.S. If this happens, you may be referred to appear before an immigration judge to decide whether or not you have abandoned your status. If you need additional information on re-entry permits, please click here.
What is the best strategy to avoid green card abandonment?
The best strategy to avoid abandonment is to keep the U.S. as your main home by sleeping more nights in the U.S. than abroad. According to USCIS, these are some of the things they look for to deem if permanent residency has been abandoned:
- moving to another country;
- intending to live in another country permanently;
- failure to file a U.S. income tax return; and
- declaring yourself a “nonimmigrant” on your U.S. tax returns.
It is recommended that you provide evidence of maintaining strong ties and intent to return to the U.S. Some examples include:
- Property deed or rent agreement for your home;
- Current driver’s license for your state of residence;
- U.S. bank and credit card statements;
- Proof of employment;
- Evidence of children’s enrollment in a U.S. school; and
- U.S. income tax return(s) for the past three years.
Where can I find additional information about this process?
USCIS has several resources on everything you need to know about maintaining your permanent resident status. For more information, please click here. If you cannot find what you need on their website, you can call the USCIS Customer Service hotline at: 1-800-375-5283.
We also have several articles regarding green cards, such as:
- 5 Differences Between Being a Permanent Resident and a US Citizen
- Frequently Asked Questions: How to Renew an Expired Green Card
- What is the Difference Between a Work Permit (EAD card) and a Residence Permit (Green Card)?
- I am a Citizen or Resident. How Can I Help my Family Become Permanent Residents?
- How to Obtain Permanent Residency through Marriage
**Noticias para Inmigrantes is a media and communications organization that provides independent reporting and commentary on issues affecting immigrants in the United States. It should be noted that we do not provide legal assistance or legal advice for any case unless we interview a specialized source on the subject. It is critical to clarify that each case is different, and it is important to consult with your attorney.