Published:  June 17, 2014

The U.S. government issues permanent resident cards, or “green cards,” to individuals seeking to “reside” in the U.S.   That means there are significant limits on the amount of time Green Card holders can spend outside the U.S. for a given period or for any single trip.  Below is a discussion of the most common questions Green Card holders present when it comes to international travel and related issues.

In general, what is the maximum amount of time a Green Card holder can travel outside the U.S. on a single trip?

In general, a U.S. resident can leave the U.S. for up to one year when traveling on their Green Card.  However, if a Green Card holder applies for a “Reentry Permit” (on Form I-131) prior to departing, the trip outside the U.S. can be for up to 2 years – assuming the Reentry Permit request is approved and the Green Card holder has the permit in hand when traveling back to the U.S.  In such a case, a Green Card holder must submit their I-131 and appear for finger printing before travel, and from there, the approved Reentry Permit can be forwarded to them overseas.

How much time per year can a Green Card holder spend outside the U.S. per year and not lose  their Green Card?

Sorry, no simple answer to this one.  It truly depends.  If a Green Card holder, with Reentry Permit, wants to make a single, 1 year, 11.5 month trip outside the U.S., then, theoretically, as little as a day or 2 within that 2 year period.  However, if the resident is looking to make successive, extended trips outside the U.S., then he/she might open themselves up to a significant U.S. immigration inspections interrogation, and perhaps Green Card confiscation, upon attempting to reenter the U.S.

For example, if a Green Card holder leaves the U.S. for 9 straight months in 2014, 10 straight months in 2015 and 11 straight months in 2016, U.S. immigration authorities will no doubt greet this U.S. resident with suspicion upon his return in 2016, wondering where he is truly maintaining a residence.   So while the Green Card holder who makes the above trips in 2014 and 2015 might be allowed reentry into the U.S., the third trip in 2016 might prompt significantly

In general, any single trip outside the U.S. of 6 months or more during the qualifying 5 year period of U.S. residence (or 3 years for residents married to and living with a U.S. citizen spouse) may taint eligibility for U.S. citizenship.  Importantly, certain classes of Green Card holders will in some circumstances be exempt from this limitation, such as U.S. residents working abroad pursuant to an assignment by their multinational corporate employer with an overseas U.S. affiliate or subsidiary (with the filing of Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes) or spouses of U.S. citizens working outside the U.S. for a U.S. company, organization, branch or affiliate.

What can a Green Card holder do when he must remain overseas beyond the above allowed periods?

If the extended trip outside the U.S. involves unforeseen circumstances arising after their departure and beyond their control, a Green Card holder may be eligible to be issued a Returning Resident visa by a U.S. embassy or consulate in their country of citizenship.  For example, if a Green Card holder travels back to their country of citizenship to visit an aging parent, and while there, the parent becomes ill and in need of care for an extended period, say for 3 years.  This Green Card holder can apply for a Returning Resident visa at the nearest U.S. consular post, which if issued, will facilitate their reentry into the U.S. as a U.S. resident as originally intended and retention of their Green Card.  Of course, a Returning Resident application, to be successful, must be well documented and withstand a thorough review process to confirm that the existence of the claimed unforeseen circumstances.

What if a Green Card holder does not have the type of excuse to support a Returning Resident application, but just simply decided to remain overseas for an extended period, and for one reason or another?

Nothing prevents this Green Card holder from being re-petitioned once again by a U.S. family member, including the family member that filed for them in the first place.  Such a new petition may lead to immigrant visa issuance in a relatively short period of time (less than 12 months usually) for spouses or under 21 year old children of U.S. citizens or parents of adult U.S. citizen.

Aside from the duration of an overseas trip, what other factors do immigration inspectors consider in assessing eligibility for reentry?

There are steps Green Card holders can take in order to have a better chance at gaining reentry into the U.S. after successive, extended trips abroad.  Individuals who file U.S. tax returns, hold U.S. bank and credit accounts, maintain U.S. employment and/or own/ lease a U.S. home or apartment are in a better position, when it’s a close call, to gain reentry into the U.S. after lengthy trips abroad as discussed above.

PUBLISHED June 17, 2014 “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2014, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois