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Why and What a Legal Permanent Resident (green card holder) needs to know about the reentry permit?

So, you have just gotten your Green Card (“Legal Permanent Resident Status”, aka LPR status) and you are thankful and happy about this for several seasons ,including but not limited to, being able to work in the United States, travel outside the United States, and one day have the opportunity to apply for citizenship. This is the sentiment that I felt as new immigrant and many LPR’s (Green Card holders) share this sentiments. However, one of the things that many do not know is that while a LPR can travel outside the United States and return, there are limitations regarding how long she/he can stay outside the country and when she/he can/should return etc.

What are these limitations?

As a Legal Permanent Resident you may travel outside the United and reenter without having to worry about applying for visa of some sort. However, as mentioned, there are restrictions on this travel.

  • If you leave the United States for more than one year, your Legal Permanent Status can be deemed null and void for reentry into the United States.
  • If you have been outside the United for more than six (6) months but less than a year, there may be a presumption that you have abandoned your LPR status.

After the long journey to secure Legal Permanent Residency, the last thing you want is to have the potential of losing this status. We all know there may be times due to family emergencies you may have to travel and stay outside the United States for periods greater than six (6) months or even a year. This of course does not mean that your intention is to abandon your Legal Permanent Status or your life in the United States. In order to avoid such a situation one should consider securing a reentry permit.

What is a reentry permit? What are the benefits? How can you get the reentry permit? What are the rules pertaining to this permit?

The purpose of the reentry permit is to establish that there was no intent to abandon your legal permanent status. It further permits you to apply for reentry into the United States after an absence of up to 2 years overseas without having to apply for a returning resident visa. Usually the permit is valid up to 2 years from the date it was issued. A reentry permit is required if you are traveling outside the United States for more than a year. While this is not the same requirement if you are outside the United for 6 months but less than a year, you should consider and seek guidance on whether it is appropriate to get the permit in your particular situation. Also, if you know you are going to be outside the country for 6 months and there is a possibility you may have to extend your stay, it is sensible to think about obtaining a reentry permit.

To get a reentry permit, you need to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. It is very important to understand that you should file Form I-131 well before your time of travel. Why you ask? If you are planning to leave in a week (for 1 year or more), have bought your tickets, and are just applying for the travel document, obtaining the reentry permit may not be possible prior to your departure. Processing times can vary for the I-131 and it would be a good idea to apply well ahead of your time (2-3 months) of travel. If you have yet to book to tickets and dates for travel are tentative, you can still apply by providing tentative dates of travel. During emergencies, you can ask that the approval of the reentry be expedited. However, you have to provide documentation and make a compelling case that the application needs to be expedited due to an emergency, for humanitarian reasons, and or to avoid financial loss that may be caused if the application is not expedited.

You ask if you can apply for the permit outside the United States. The answer is a simple no you cannot. You wonder if you can apply for the reentry permit, complete your biometrics in the United States, and then leave the country to receive the reentry permit at a consulate outside the United States. The answer is that this is an option but not always recommended.

You wonder if you can extend your reentry permit. The answer is no you cannot. If the permit has expired, you can apply for a new one. You do not need to send the expired permit along with the application. If you have a valid permit but are applying for a new permit, you need to send the valid permit in your possession along with your application. Of course if by misfortune you have lost, or had your permit stolen or destroyed, then you can apply for a new with a notation of the situation.

What is the process of filing for the form I-131? The process in a nutshell is as follows:

  • Complete the Form-131 application.
  • Provide the supporting documents.
  • Send a filing fee of $360 plus $85 for biometric (finger printing) to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (hereafter USCIS) for the application (the fees are subject to change so it is important to check with USCIS) Applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 are required to attend the biometrics appointment.
  • Once the application has been submitted with along with the appropriate fees and any supporting documents, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment. This appointment must be attended while being physically present in the United States.
  • Check the USCIS.gov website for processing times for the application. These processing times are a guide and are not set in stone.
  • Wait for the decision on your application from USCIS.

What are the potential consequences for staying outside the United States without a reentry permit?

If you find yourself in a situation where you have been outside the United States for more than a year but did not secure a reentry permit, then there is a potential for the consequences to be severe In general, in such cases, there can be a presumption of abandonment of LPR status and there is a potential for the matter to be referred to an immigration judge to make this determination. In general, one may be eligible to seek a returning resident visa at the local consulate. Given that all cases are different and have varying circumstances, it is recommended to consult with an immigration attorney to discuss your situation.

In summary, while the LPR status allows one to travel outside the United States, it is important to remember that there are some limitations on the length of the absences from the United States. To avoid any dilemmas regarding travel that keeps you outside the United States beyond a year or more than six months, it makes sense to determine how to obtain the reentry permit and possibly seek more guidance on the process.

Author: Attorney Shobhana R. Kasturi, Kasturi Law LLC, 50 S Main Street, Naperville IL 60540, Kasturilaw.com, (630) 392-8101, info@kasturilaw.com.

This article authored by Shobhana Kasturi was originally printed in the India Tribune, 2016.

The content of this article is general in nature and not meant to constitute legal advice. The content of this article is not meant to and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Any recipients of the content of this article should not take action or refrain from taking action based on the information. Please see appropriate legal advice based on the facts from an attorney licensed to provide such advice. Call our experienced immigration attorney today at 630-392-8101 now for a consultation!