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Can a Person With a Green Card Travel Outside the United States?

Having a green card grants the holder a number of freedoms. As a lawful permanent resident (LPR) in the United States, you must be aware of the travel restrictions that apply to your case. This concern applies in particular to the length of time you can spend outside of the United States. For foreign nationals intending to naturalize as U.S. citizen, it is essential to remember that the length of stay outside of the U.S. could impact their path to naturalization.

Failure to adhere to these rules could potentially jeopardize your permanent resident status. It could also affect your future U.S. citizenship plans. Thus, it is essential to be informed and proactive in learning about these rules before traveling outside of the United States.

This article covers the basic rules and requirements for green card holders traveling outside the United States.

How long can I stay out of the United States?​

Generally speaking, a permanent resident needs to spend more time in the US than out, as the point of a green card is to establish a permanent home and U.S. residence. Thus, absences over one year tend to raise suspicions among U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials. Immigration officials could also look for additional signs that the LPR does not intend to stay in the country.

Other factors the immigration or CBP officers might consider when looking at your intentions as an LPR include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Did you have family members and community ties in the U.S.?
  • Did you file U.S. income taxes as a resident?
  • Did you maintain a bank account and U.S. mailing address?
  • Do you have a valid U.S. driver's license?
  • Do you own property or run a business in the U.S.?
  • Have you applied for U.S. citizenship?

How can I apply for a reentry permit?​

If you intend to stay out of the U.S. for a year or more, you should submit a reentry permit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before leaving. The reentry permit will allow you to return to the United States. Note that the permit has an expiration date. To avoid challenges in entering the U.S., returning to the U.S. before the expiration of the reentry permit is advisable. 

The reentry permit will also allow you to return to the U.S. without obtaining a returning resident visa from the U.S. Consulate or U.S. Embassy.

If you started the green card application process but are not yet a holder, you must file Form I-131 if you want to travel outside the United States. This will serve as an advance parole document and allow you to leave the country before receiving your LPR status or green card.

It is crucial to file these documents before leaving the United States. Upon your return, this ensures a smooth process when interacting with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It also prevents challenges at the port of entry and the risk of deportation or being denied reentry into the United States.

Are there green card travel rules for prospective U.S. Citizens?​

If you are an LPR wanting to become a naturalized citizen, travel outside the U.S. may be limited by continuous residency requirements. Generally, you must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the previous five years to establish continuous residency. If you fail to meet this threshold, you may still be eligible for naturalization if you can prove that the absence was not an abandonment of resident status.

Therefore, limiting trips abroad to six months or less is advisable. If you wish to become a citizen but plan to be absent for more than one year for specific employment purposes, you may file an Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes (Form N-470) and pay the filing fee.

Get Legal Help With Traveling Outside the U.S. on a Green Card

Navigating through the complex rules of immigration law can be overwhelming. These challenges are particularly evident for those who are processing their U.S. immigration status and want to travel outside the country. Don't let legal issues and other confusing language scare you from traveling outside the United. Contact a qualified immigration attorney to learn about green card travel rules, residency requirements, and how they apply to your situation.

Immigration lawyers can give you legal advice particularly tailored to your case. They can guide you through the application for travel documents and the immigration application processes in general. They can give you an idea of what to expect when you do international travel while processing your permanent resident card. For more information about immigrant visas, nonimmigrant visas, and other matters related to immigration law, you may visit FindLaw.com

You can also check the USCIS website for U.S. government guidelines and updates.

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