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Maintaining your LPR status

Wednesday, January 15, 2014    

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This week we publish the first of a two-part feature on maintaining your Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status in the United States.

Q: I am a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) of the United States, married to a US citizen who filed the petition that allowed me to get my green card. My husband and I have been living in Jamaica for the past three years and we now want to return to the US, 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: US legal permanent residents, or "green card" holders, are expected to live permanently in the United States. Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) who have been outside of the US for more than one year (and did not apply for a re-entry permit before leaving) have limited options for re-entry into the US, as their LPR status is no longer valid. Under US immigration law, permanent residents do have the right to travel to and from the US without restraints, but are expected to live primarily in the US. If the duration of their trip is less than one year, the LPR simply needs to present an unexpired green card and valid passport at the port of entry for admission into the US. If the LPR has been outside of the US for more than one continuous year and does not have a valid re-entry permit, then the person no longer has valid LPR status. Their options are:

* Abandon their LPR status and apply for a non-immigrant visitor visa. This will not allow you to live in the US, but only to visit for short periods of time.

* Begin the immigrant visa petition process again. You will be responsible for re-filing all paperwork and paying all the fees.

* Apply for a Returning Resident (SB-1) 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 US within four months of the return of the member or employee.

How does a re-entry permit work?

If you know in advance that your trip will be longer than one year, you should apply to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a re-entry permit before you depart the US. Any permanent resident is eligible to obtain a re-entry permit, which allows the resident to stay outside of the US for 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 US. After the application is filed, USCIS will inform the LPR when they 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 to any US embassy or consulate, where it 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 eligible to apply for the re-entry permit and must return within one year.

Next: Obtaining a Returning Resident Visa.

The Embassy staff in Kingston will answer questions you may have regarding the US Mission, including consular law, regulations and/or practice. In order to respect privacy, staff will not answer questions about specific visa applications. The embassy employs a visa appointment system, so it is only necessary for visa applicants to arrive 15 minutes before their scheduled appointment.

Send your questions to: editorial@jamaicaobserver.com and we will send them to the embassy.

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