Q: I am a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States, married to a Jamaican-born US citizen. My husband and I have been living in Jamaica for the past three years and we want to return to the United States, but my green card has expired. Will I need a new green card in order to enter the US? If so, what will I need to do in order to obtain one?
A: Legal Permanent Residents who have been outside of the US for more than 12 months (and did not apply for a re-entry permit before leaving) have two options for re-entry into the United States: They can either abandon their LPR status and apply for a non-immigrant visa, or they can attempt to maintain their LPR status. If the LPR wishes to remain a resident of the United States, then they will need to apply for a Returning Resident Visa before they can re-enter the United States.
Who needs a Returning Resident Visa
Under US immigration law, permanent residents have the right to travel to and from the United States without restraint. If the duration of their trip is less than one year, the LPR simply needs to present an unexpired green card (Form I-551) and valid passport at the port of entry for admission into the US If the trip is more than one year, but less than two years, then a re-entry permit will also be required for re-entry into the United States.
If the LPR has been outside of the US for more than one year and does not have a valid re-entry permit, or remained overseas beyond the expiration of their re-entry permit, then the LPR may be considered to have abandoned their permanent residency and should apply at the US Embassy for a Returning Resident Visa.
The one-year time limitation does not apply to the spouse or child of a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, or of a civilian employee of the US Government stationed abroad pursuant to official orders. In this case, the spouse or child must present their green card and passport, not have relinquished residence, and be preceding or accompanying the member or employee, or be following to join the member or employee in the United States within four months of the return of the member or employee.
Any LPR who intends to remain abroad for more than one year should apply to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a re-entry permit. Any permanent resident is eligible to obtain a re-entry permit, which allows the resident to stay outside the United States for the duration of the permit's validity -- usually two years. The resident must file a Form I-131 (Application for Travel Document), which is available on the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov. The LPR must be physically present in the United States when the form is filed, which should be no fewer than 60 days before the intended date of departure from the United States.
After the application is filed, USCIS will inform the LPR when he or she must appear at a designated Application Support Center to obtain biometrics (such as fingerprints). Once biometrics are provided the LPR may leave the US and USCIS can send the re-entry permit to any US embassy or consulate, where they can be picked up in person.
It is important to note that all applications for re-entry permits must be filed from within the United States. If an applicant has already left the US, then they are not eligibile to apply for the re-entry permit and must return within one year. If this time has lapsed, then the alien may attempt to retain their residency by applying for a returning resident visa.
How to apply for a Returning Resident Visa
Applicants who wish to apply for a Returning Resident Visa should schedule an appointment with the embassy at least three months before they intend to return to the United States, in order to permit sufficient time for processing. Applicants must bring a completed for DS-117 (Application to Determine Returning Resident Status), and must pay the application fee to the embassy cashier before an interview can take place. To qualify for this type of visa, applicants must furnish evidence to show that:
* at the time of departure from the US, they were lawful permanent residents;
* they left the US intending to return and have maintained that intent;
* they intended to stay out of the country temporarily, but their stays were extended due to circumstances beyond their control and for which they are not responsible; and
* they are eligible for the immigrant visa in all other respects.
Examples of such evidence include, but are not limited to, documentation regarding one's status in the US and dates of travel, proof that one has continued to file US tax returns and maintained economic or social ties to the US, and evidence that the protracted stay was due to circumstances beyond the applicant's control.
If the application is accepted, then the applicant will be able to re-enter the United States and obtain a new green card once they arrive, through the same process as a new immigrant first coming to the US on an immigrant visa. If the application is refused, then the applicant is considered to have abandoned his or her residence in the United States. If an applicant wishes to live in the US again, he or she will need to begin the immigrant visa application process again and have a new petition filed on his or her behalf.
Abandoning LPR status
If an LPR stays outside the US for over a year or past the validity of the re-entry permit, and his or her legal permanent residence has lapsed, it is also possible to travel in the future to the United States on a non-immigrant visa. In order to do so, the former LPR must come into the US Embassy any Monday or Thursday from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. and submit a form I-407 (Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status) to the USCIS officer on duty. After surrendering green cards, applicants may apply for a non-immigrant visa, but will be required to meet all the same requirements as any other applicant. This topic was discussed in depth in the February 10, 2010 Ask the US Embassy column.
Those with additional questions about permanent residency, green cards, or US citizenship may visit the US Citizenship and Immigration Service's website at: www.uscis.gov. Those with visa-related questions or desiring instructions on how to make an appointment for a non-immigrant visa interview should visit US Embassy Kingston's website at http://kingston.usembassy.gov/ and choose "Visas to the US" from the top menu.