Green card holders are free to travel abroad. However, if you spend a long period of time outside the United States you could be considered to have abandoned your green card status. An absence of more than 6 months (more than 180 days) but less than 1 year (less than 365 days) is presumed to break the continuity of such residence. An absence from the United States for a continuous period of 1 year or more (365 days or more) will automatically break the continuity of residence. To avoid that, you can request a Re-Entry Permit before taking a lengthy trip outside the United States.
What Is a Re-Entry Permit?
A Re-Entry Permit is a travel document that looks a bit like a U.S. passport. A Re-Entry Permit allows green card holders to maintain their U.S. residency when traveling abroad for periods of up to 2 years. You can only apply for a Re-Entry Permit while physically present in the United States.
Remember, you can also avoid travel headaches by seeking U.S. citizenship, if you are eligible. As a citizen, you can travel for as long as you want without needing special documentation.
The Re-Entry Permit is important because while green card holders can travel freely, they must maintain continuous residency in the United States. If you travel abroad for more than a year, you’ll be assumed to have abandoned your residency, and your green card could be revoked.
The Re-Entry Permit tells the U.S. government that you intend to return and continue living in the United States after your trip abroad. If you have a valid Re-Entry Permit, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials won’t consider your period of absence from the United States as evidence that you’ve abandoned your U.S. residence.
Who needs a Re-Entry Permit?
The main reason to obtain a Re-Entry Permit is to show that you intend to maintain your green card status when traveling abroad. If you’re a green card holder, you should apply for a Re-Entry Permit if you plan on traveling outside the United States for a long time, 6 months or more.
For short trips, your green card will remain valid without the need for a Re-Entry Permit, although you should still maintain clear ties to the United States (such as through your work, family connections, or home address) while traveling abroad.
For trips of more than 2 years you may apply for a Re-Entry Permit more than once. If you didn’t do this in advance, you’ll need to apply for a returning resident visa (See detailed explanation about “returning resident visa” in a separate article) at your nearest U.S. consulate or embassy before returning to the United States.
How do you obtain a Re-Entry Permit?
To apply for a Re-Entry Permit, you must file Form I-131 (“Application for Travel Document”). This form collects details about your planned trip, your planned travel abroad (outside the US), and whether you’ve been properly filing U.S. tax returns.
You must file form I-131 while you are physically present in the United States. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends filing this application at least 60 days before you travel abroad (outside the US). You’ll be called for a biometrics appointment at your local U.S. office, and your application may be denied if you’ve already left the country and do not attend this appointment.
You don’t have to remain in the United States until your Re-Entry Permit is approved. Once you’ve filed Form I-131 and attended your biometrics appointment, you’re free to travel abroad.
How do you use a Re-Entry Permit?
When you return to the United States after a long absence, you should carry your valid Re-Entry Permit with you, as well as your green card and passport. The CBP official at the airport or other point of entry will inspect your papers, ask questions about your journey, and – providing everything is in order – readmit you to the United States.
The Re-Entry Permit for green card holders tells the CBP official not to consider your absence from the United States as evidence that you’ve abandoned your U.S. residence. However, a Re-Entry Permit doesn’t guarantee you the right to re-enter the United States. If a CBP official finds other reasons to suspect that you’ve abandoned your U.S. residence, you could face further questioning.
Can you extend a Re-Entry Permit?
You cannot renew or extend a Re-Entry Permit, so if your current permit is due to expire then you’ll need to return to the United States and apply for a new one. Remember that you must be physically present in the United States when you file Form I-131 and for your biometrics appointment. You’ll also have to surrender your existing Re-Entry Permit when you file for a new permit.
There’s no official limit on how many times you can apply for a Re-Entry Permit. However, if you’ve spent more than 4 of the previous 5 years – since gaining a green card – outside the United States, you’ll only be issued a Re-Entry Permit valid for a single year at a time.
Be sure to keep filing your tax returns as a U.S. resident during the whole period of your absence from the United States and do not file tax returns as a non-resident of the US. Failing to do so could be taken as evidence that you’ve abandoned your U.S. residence, even if you’ve obtained a Re-Entry Permit.
If you spend more than a year outside the United States, you will not be considered continuously resident for the purposes of gaining U.S. citizenship. That means, you’ll face a longer wait before you can apply for naturalization (US citizenship).
All said and explained in this article does not constitute a legal opinion and does not replace legal advice. Responsibility for using the wordings and opinions conveyed in this article relies solely and entirely on the reader.
This article was written by Dotan Cohen Law Offices, working in the field of immigration law in Israel, the United States, Israel and Canada.