Unless you never want to live in the United States again, abandoning your green card is a bad idea. To get a new green card, you have to start the whole process over again. You also need a qualified sponsor and you must again show you are eligible. You must pay for application fees, which continually increase, and wait your turn, just as you did the first time around.  The wait might be longer next time and there is no guarantee you will be approved. The fact that you abandoned your green card in the past may actually be a strike against you.

Abandoning your green card

A legal permanent resident involuntarily loses his or her green card if a judge issues a removal order, usually after an arrest or a conviction for certain serious crimes.

You may also unknowingly jeopardize your legal permanent residence by:

  • Moving to another country with the intention of living there permanently
  • Remaining in another country for an extended time period
  • Not paying taxes while in the U.S. or abroad
  • Checking the “nonimmigrant” box on your U.S. tax return

If you want to leave the U.S. permanently and move to another country, you should formally surrender your green card. If you leave permanently without doing so, the U.S. will consider you to have abandoned your status. Should you ever wish to return as a visitor, you will have issues at the border. Surrendering a green card is pretty simple – you file Form I-407, Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status and simply submit it in person or by mail to the nearest USCIS international field office. Be sure to sign the form!

If you wish to maintain your green card status, but need to leave the U.S. for more than one year, read on.

Who needs a reentry permit?

Green card holders can travel in and out of the United States just like U.S. citizens. In most situations, you can take long holidays overseas, make repeated trips to visit family or remain abroad for months to conduct business and still keep your green card.

If you know you will be outside the United States for more than one year, you should obtain a travel document before you leave. A re-entry permit is a travel document that grants you advanced parole into the United States. This means the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has already decided that your travel is not considered abandonment of your legal resident status.

You may also consider applying for a travel document for a trip that is expected to last less than a year if your intentions to return could come into question. For example, if you plan to buy property and get married in your country of origin over the course of several months, you may want to apply for a travel document.

How do you apply for a reentry permit?

You have to apply for a re-entry permit BEFORE you leave the U.S. To apply for a re-entry permit, you will need to explain the purpose and dates of your long trip and any special circumstances regarding your absence from the country.

The purpose of the document is to indicate you are not giving up your green card. Emphasize the temporary nature of attending school or accepting a freelance job opportunity in another country. Provide evidence of ties to the United States, such as family, home, employment, bank accounts, tax returns and community involvement.

Follow these steps to apply for a reentry permit:

  • Complete Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. There may be sections in the form that do not apply to you, simply skip over them.
  • Submit the following documents with Form I-131:
    1. Copy of your green card (front and back)
    2. Copy of biographic page of your passport
    3. 2 passport photos
    4. Evidence that your trip is for one of the three reasons below
      1. Education – Document showing enrollment in a program abroad / letter from an educational institution explaining the purpose of travel
      2. Employment – Letter from employer detailing need for travel
      3. Humanitarian – Letter from physician explaining why being abroad is medically necessary or documentation of family member’s serious illness/death
  • Evidence of ties to the U.S. such as bank statements, tax returns and proof of home ownership
  • Include a check or money order payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” in the amount of $660 ($575 fee for I-131 + $85 biometrics fee)
  • Send your paperwork to the appropriate location (based on your state of residence).

How long does it take to get a reentry permit?

Shortly after filing Form I-131, you will receive a letter in the mail informing you when and where you biometrics appointment will take place. At this appointment, your fingerprints will be taken. The USCIS can take 3 to 8 months to process form I-131 for a reentry permit. As the workloads across field offices vary, some have shorter processing times than others. If you leave the U.S. before your Advance Parole card is issued, the USCIS will consider your application abandoned. Speak to an immigration attorney if you need to leave urgently.

How long is a reentry permit valid for?

Reentry permits are usually valid for two years, but in some circumstances, can be issued for one year. They cannot be extended, but you can apply for a new one when one is about to expire. If you intend on staying out of the U.S. for many years, talk to an immigration attorney. At some point, the U.S. is going to start to question your intentions. If you already know you need to be abroad for 5 years, figure out a plan with an attorney so you don’t run into issues later.

Will a reentry permit affect my citizenship application?

In order to apply for U.S. citizenship, green card holders must demonstrate continuous physical presence in the U.S. for a period of five years (or three if you obtained your green card via marriage to a citizen).  This means being present in the U.S. for a minimum of 6 months out of every year during that five year period. While you can preserve your green card through a reentry permit, absences of a year or longer break the required continuity for citizenship. To reestablish your continuity, you would have to come back to the U.S. and reside here for 4 years and 1 day before you would be eligible to apply for naturalization (or 2 years and 1 day if you are subject to the 3 year requirement). Some applicants may be able to preserve their residence while abroad, but there are very specific criteria for this (qualifying criteria can be found here). Learn more about continuous presence and other citizenship requirements here.

It is important for green card holders to assess their citizenship plans before leaving the U.S. for extended periods of time. If you are less than 2 years away from being eligible for naturalization, it’s worth asking if the extended stay abroad is worth breaking continuity and waiting 4 years upon return.

Do you need an immigration attorney?

Leaving the U.S. for long periods of time can be tricky. If your circumstances are out of the ordinary in any way or you need to live abroad for several years, it is best to consult an attorney. You do not want to abandon your status unknowingly.

You have three options:

  • File the paperwork yourself
  • Schedule a consultation with an attorney for $150-250, get your questions answered and then complete the paperwork yourself
  • Work with an immigration attorney from start to end

If you need help with your reentry permit, you can find pre-screened immigration lawyers with over a decade of experience on Ask Ellis. We look forward to helping you!

*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice

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