A permanent resident can generally travel outside the United States and return by simply showing a permanent resident card (green card) upon reentry at a U.S. port of entry.
But there are situations that a reentry permit is needed in addition to the permanent resident card.
A reentry permit can help avoid two types of problems:
- Your permanent resident card becomes technically invalid for reentry into the United States if you are absent from the U.S. for 1 year or more.
- Your permanent resident status may be considered as abandoned for absences shorter than 1 year if you take up residence in another country.
After traveling abroad, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at your U.S. port of entry will need to determine if your travel was “temporary” in nature. To be temporary, you must have the intention to return to the Untied States at the time of departure and throughout the entire trip. Employment, family, filing of taxes, involvement in the community all demonstrate ties to the U.S. To determine your intentions, some of the questions that a CBP officer may ask cover topics such as:
- purpose for departing
- termination date of travel abroad
- place of employment
- place of actual home and property ties
- family ties to the U.S.
- filing of U.S. income tax returns as a U.S. resident
- the proportion of time you are in the U.S. versus abroad
Purpose of the Reentry Permit
The main purpose of a reentry permit is that it establishes that you did not intend to abandon your U.S. permanent resident status, and it allows you to apply for admission to the United States after traveling abroad for up to 2 years without having to obtain a returning resident visa. A U.S. permanent resident must maintain residence in the United States. As previously mentioned, a permanent resident card becomes technically invalid for reentry into the United States if the permanent resident is absent from the U.S. for 1 year or more. Extensive travel to another country, even for trips of less than 1 year, can create suspicion that the permanent resident has established residence in another country. This generally becomes an issue at reentry to the United States through an interview by the CBP officer.
A reentry permit can also serve as a travel document. In some cases, permanent residents are not able to get a passport from their home country. This is generally the case if the permanent resident is “stateless” or has fled a country in fear of persecution (asylees and refugees). Since a permanent resident also cannot obtain a U.S. passport, another travel document is required. In these situations a reentry permit is obtained to use as a travel document.
On rare occasion, a permanent resident may obtain a reentry permit to visit a certain country because that country will not honor a passport of the resident’s country of nationality.
No Reentry Permit Required for Some Residents
Certain permanent residents can reenter the U.S. with only their permanent resident card, even after an absence of more than one year. Included in this group are civilian employees of U.S. Government agencies returning from assignments abroad on official orders and a spouse or child of a civilian employee of the U.S. Government or a spouse or child of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces as described in 8 CFR 211.1(a)(6).
Problems without a Reentry Permit
Without a reentry permit, it is likely that a permanent resident will encounter stiff questioning from a CBP officer when attempting to reenter the United States. In some cases, CBP may also consider taking action to have the permanent resident’s status revoked. At the very least, a permanent resident will undergo a time-consuming hassle that could translate into an expensive attorney bill. All of this can be prevented by applying for a reentry permit before traveling abroad.
If a CBP officer notices that you’ve been abroad for a significant period of time, you may be advised that a non-temporary trip abroad will lead to abandonment of your permanent resident status. In some cases, the officer may even make a notation on your passport stamp that you have been “advised.” See image to the right. This is strong indicator that you may be at risk for your next reentry. Speak to an immigration attorney before traveling abroad again. Most likely, obtaining a reentry permit and maintaining ties to the United States will resolve this issue.
Reentry Permit Application
To apply for a reentry permit, applicants should file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. There is a filing fee of $360 and an additional $85 biometrics fee will be required for applicants ages 14-79.
The applicant must be physically located in the U.S. at the time the reentry permit is filed. (For the purposes of filing Form I-131, the United States includes all 50 states, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.) The applicant must also be present in the U.S. for the biometrics appointment, and the reentry permit can only be mailed to a U.S. mailing address.
Reentry Permits Not Always Valid for Two Years
Reentry permits are generally valid for two years from the date on which the reentry permit is issued. However, pursuant to 8 CFR 223.2(c)(2), a permanent resident who, since becoming an lawful permanent resident or during the past five (5) years, whichever is less, has been outside of the U.S. for more than four (4) years in the aggregate, will be issued a reentry permit with validity of only one (1) year from the date of issuance.
Exceptions are made for certain permanent residents employed by public international organization of which the United States is a member or is a professional athlete. In these cases, the reentry permit can be issued for two years despite extended periods of absence from the U.S.
Further, a conditional resident may apply for and be issued a reentry permit, just like any other lawful permanent resident. However, the permit may not be valid beyond the date on which the conditional resident’s status will expire.
Finally, a reentry permit cannot be extended. The permanent resident must apply for a new reentry permit with Form I-131.
Expedited Reentry Permit
It can typically take 90 days for USCIS to process your Form I-131 and mail you the reentry permit. So plan early whenever possible.
But sometimes travel is needed on a more urgent basis — a new job must be started within a month or a relative is sick and needs assistance from you immediately. In these cases, USCIS does it’s best to accommodate expedite processing for the reentry permit.
To request expedited processing, you will need to provide a cover letter that explains the reason (e.g. humanitarian, employment, or government work) and include evidence that supports the claim. More information can be found at Expedited Reentry Permit. Detailed directions are included when you use CitizenPath to prepare your reentry permit application.
Effect on Naturalization
Extensive travel outside the United States, with or without a reentry permit, can affect a permanent resident’s eligibility for naturalization. There are tremendous benefits to U.S. citizenship. In particular, you’ll never need a reentry permit or green card again! If your desire is to become a U.S. citizen, you should understand the continuous residence and physical presence requirements. Absences from the United States can disrupt your continuous residence for the purposes of naturalization. You should avoid any trips abroad of 6 months or longer. In general, the following applies:
- A trip abroad that is less than 6 months will not disrupt continuous residence.
- A trip 6-12 could likely disrupt continuous residence.
- A trip 12 months or longer will disrupt continuous residence.
A naturalization candidate that is applying on the basis of five years of permanent residence must be have 30 months of physical presence in the U.S. before submitting Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. To learn more, visit Continuous Residence and Physical Presence Requirements.
CitizenPath is the online service that makes immigration forms simple. The website provides simple, step-by-step guidance through USCIS applications and petitions. Our low-cost service helps to simplify the process by explaining each question and providing alerts if your answer to a question could be a problem. Most people do not need a lawyer to prepare USCIS forms, but many need a little assistance. That’s where CitizenPath can help.