As a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States, you are subject to certain restrictions with regard to international travel. For example, if you have a green card and you wish to travel abroad while also maintaining your U.S. immigration status, you must generally either: (1) return to the U.S. within one year of your date of departure, or (2) obtain a re-entry permit which allows you to remain abroad for more than a year.

So, what happens when you don’t have a re-entry permit and are unexpectedly forced to stay abroad for more than a year? In this scenario, you may be eligible to apply for an SB1 Returning Resident Visa.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for an SB1 Returning Resident Visa?

To qualify for an SB1 Returning Resident Visa, you must meet three basic requirements. If you are not eligible, then you will need to consider the other alternatives that are available. The three basic requirements for SB1 visa eligibility are:

  • You must have been a lawful permanent resident at the time you departed the United States (i.e., you held a green card);
  • You must have intended to return to the United States when you departed, and you must not have abandoned this intention during your time abroad; and,
  • You must have been forced to stay abroad for more than a year due to reasons beyond your control.

For purposes of applying for an SB1 visa, reasons for staying abroad that are considered to be “beyond your control” include (but are not limited to):

  • You became ill while you were traveling
  • You became pregnant while you were traveling
  • Your passport or other travel documents are being withheld during a family dispute
  • You are not able to obtain permission to leave the country in which you are currently located

How Can I Apply for an SB1 Returning Resident Visa?

Applying for an SB1 Returning Resident Visa is simpler and less onerous than applying for a new immigrant visa. For this reason, it is typically the preferred method of re-entry for green card holders who meet the eligibility criteria. The steps to obtain an SB1 visa include:

  • Filing Form DS-117, Application to Determine Returning Resident Status, with the U.S. Department of State;
  • Submitting proof of your LPR status (such as Form I-151 or Form I-551);
  • Submitting proof of your intent to return to the United States (such as airline tickets, tax returns, evidence of family and financial ties to the U.S., or employment records);
  • Submitting proof that the delay in your return is due to reasons beyond your control (such as medical records or appropriate legal documents); and,
  • Submitting the appropriate application fee.

Once you submit your initial application, you will then need to schedule an appointment at the U.S. Consulate’s office in the country where you are currently staying. During this appointment, you will meet with a consular officer who will assess your eligibility for an SB1 visa, so it is important to be as prepared as possible. You will want to carefully review the details of your application as well as all of the supporting documentation you submitted. If anything has changed since you submitted your application, you should be prepared to discuss this as well.

If the U.S. Consulate approves your application, you will need to take the following steps to complete the process of securing an SB1 visa to return to the United States:

  • Submit to a medical exam conducted by a licensed physician;
  • File Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application;
  • Submit the necessary supporting documents along with your Form DS-260, including your Form DS-260 confirmation page, appropriate medical documentation, your passport and two photographs; and,
  • Submit any other documentation required by the local U.S. Embassy.

What Fees Do You have to Pay to Obtain an SB1 Returning Resident Visa?

Each form you must file in order to obtain an SB1 Returning Resident Visa is subject to a fee, and you must pay a fee for the mandatory medical exam as well. These fees change frequently, and current rates are published by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

How Long Does It Take to Obtain an SB1 Visa Once You File Form DS-117?

The length of time it takes to obtain an SB1 Returning Resident Visa depends on a number of factors, including the reason for your delayed return to the U.S., the completeness of your application and the current backlog at the particular U.S. Embassy at which you are applying. The process usually takes between three and six months, but there is no guarantee that you will receive your SB1 visa within 180 days.

What Are My Options if My SB1 Visa Application Is Denied?

If the U.S. Consulate denies your SB1 visa application, you will potentially have three options. The first, and best, option is to submit additional evidence in support of your application. If you omitted necessary information in your application, or if the consular officer overlooked key evidence in your application, then you may be able to overcome the denial and obtain an SB1 Returning Resident Visa.

The next option is to file for a new immigrant visa. If you are not eligible for an SB1 visa and you wish to return to the U.S. on a permanent basis after staying abroad for a year or longer without a re-entry permit, you may need to restart the immigration process from the beginning. Alternatively, you may also seek to apply for a non-immigrant visa, although this can have certain consequences for your long-term immigration status.

When seeking to return to the United States after spending a year or more abroad, it is important to carefully weigh your options and choose the path that best suits your immigration status and other individual circumstances. If you have a green card and you are eligible to apply for an SB1 Returning Resident Visa, working with an experienced immigration lawyer will help ensure that you are able to return to the U.S. as quickly as possible.

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

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