A lawful permanent resident has the ability to travel freely outside the United States, and temporary trips abroad usually do not have any negative impact on permanent resident status. If seeking to enter the United States after temporary travel abroad as a lawful permanent resident, a valid, unexpired “Green Card,” or Permanent Resident Card, Form I-551, is all that is required for readmission. However, it is important to remember that a permanent resident can be found to have abandoned their permanent resident status. Abandonment can occur in trips lasting less than a year, where it is believed they did not intend to make the United States their permanent residence. Immigration officers may consider multiple criteria — such as the purpose of their departure; fixed date for the visit; U.S. family and community ties; U.S. employment; and filing of U.S. income taxes as a resident — or any other evidence that supports the temporary nature of their absence.
If a permanent resident plans to be absent from the United States for longer than a year, it is advisable for them to first apply for a reentry permit, or Form I-131. This reentry permit must be filed prior to leaving the United States, and it demonstrates their intention to permanently reside in the United States. A reentry permit will be issued for two years, if approved. They must return to the United States before the expiration date on the reentry permit; then, if needed, they can file for a new reentry permit.
If they loses their Green Card or reentry permit or the document is stolen or destroyed while the person is abroad, they may request a boarding foil at the U.S. consulate/embassy, i.e., Form I-131A. This boarding foil is a transportation letter that allows airlines to board a lawful permanent resident bound for the United States without the person being penalized for not having a valid green card or reentry permit. If the person remains outside the U.S. past the reentry permit expiration date or did not apply for a reentry permit at all, he/she can also apply for a returning resident visa, or SB-1, at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. An SB-1 applicant will be required to establish eligibility for an immigrant visa and will need a medical exam.
If a permanent resident feels that he/she no longer has the intention to reside permanently in the U.S. and would like to relinquish his/her green card, they can visit the nearest U.S. Consulate / Embassy and fill out Form I-407. This form is used to record an individual’s abandonment of permanent residence status. However, a green card holder should not be forced to sign this document at the port of entry. There have been reports that some inspecting immigration officers in Florida are coercing lawful permanent residents to sign this form when they are coming back after a long trip abroad over a year or more. Please note that a person is not obligated to sign away his/her green card when the intention is still to permanently reside in the United States.
Additionally, it is important to note that a lawful permanent resident can still be subject to the grounds of inadmissibility under Section 101(a)(13)(C), and he/she could be found inadmissible upon return to the United States if one of the following conditions are met:
- Abandoning/relinquishing lawful permanent resident status
- Being absent for more than 180 consecutive days
- Engaging in illegal activity after leaving the U.S.
- Leaving the U.S. while in removal proceedings
- Trying to enter without inspection or committing a crime (crimes of moral turpitude)
Clients who are in this situation are advised to consult with their attorneys and to keep in mind that traveling abroad as a lawful permanent resident is not always simple. For clients who are eligible, the attorney may suggest that he/she apply for naturalization and become a U.S. citizen.