By Maud Poudat | US Immigration Attorney
Posted: August 31, 2016
When you become a Permanent Resident (LPR), or Green Card holder, you have to maintain your primary residence in the U.S. This means that, among other things, you are not supposed to remain outside of the American soil for an extended period of time, which is usually for more than 6 months per year.
In certain cases, your circumstances might require you to go back to your home country, or go to any other country for a longer period of time… The U.S. Immigration Services will allow you to retain your Green Card after a lengthy period of stay outside of the country, but you have to apply for a reentry permit before you leave, in order to maintain your status as a Permanent Resident.
Once you obtain your Green Card, you are a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) until such time as you become a U.S. citizen or you abandon your status. The abandonment of your permanent residency can occur either voluntarily or involuntarily via a decision of the U.S. administration.
This suspicion will rise if you spend more than 6 months outside of the country: remaining abroad for more than 6 months will create a presumption that you abandoned your residence in the U.S. When you have been absent for over 2 years, the Immigration Services will automatically consider that you abandoned your status, and thus will either: 1) make you sign Form I-407 to voluntarily abandon your residency status, or 2) send you for a deferred inspection with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to determine whether you have abandoned Lawful Permanent Resident status. In the latter case scenario, USCBP will more than likely place you in removal proceedings to appear before an Immigration Judge since only the judge can arrive at this determination.
If you remain outside of the U.S. for more than 6 months but less than a year, you could have to demonstrate that you maintained your main residence in the U.S., thus that you did not intend to abandon your Lawful Permanent Resident status, in order to retain your Green Card.
The supporting evidence which you will have to show to the U.S. government can be: owning real estate in the U.S. and/or keeping an address there, paying your taxes, having bank accounts there, maintaining relationships with people in the U.S. and keep the correspondence and phone bills showing the calls to them, etc..
Most importantly, you will have to explain why you had to remain out of the country for an extended period of time, and have the supporting evidence to demonstrate your circumstances. The administration will want to see that your protracted stay outside of the U.S. was for reason beyond your control (examples: medical incapacitation, employment with a U.S. company, etc). Additionally, you will need to show that when you departed the U.S., that you intended to return and maintained this intent throughout the duration of your stay abroad.
It is very important to know that trying to come back to the U.S. as a Green Card holder after a stay of more than 6 months out of the country entails a great risk for your LPR status: even if you gather a lot of evidence showing that you maintained residence in the U.S. and that you had a legitimate reason to remain abroad for more than six months, the officer inspecting you at the port of entry in the U.S. is entitled to consider whether you abandoned your LPR status.
When you anticipate that you will have to remain out of the U.S. for more than one year, it is recommended that you apply for a reentry permit to retain your Green Card. You have to be physically in the US when filing for this re-entry permit, but can have it issued through a U.S. Consulate abroad. Such permit which can be issued for a period up to two years, and renewed subsequently, will allow you to stay abroad without raising the suspicion of abandonment of LPR status.
Finally, if you failed to apply for a reentry permit before you left, you can go through the entire Green Card application process all over again, or apply for a Returning Resident Visa (SB-1) with the U.S. consulate of the country you are in. The application for SB-1 visa require that you demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that you did not abandon your permanent residence status. Such criteria can be found on the U.S. Consulate Embassy webpage for the immigrant Visa sections.
Also, please note that the one-year limitation does not apply to the spouse of a U.S. Military or government employee stationed abroad.
In either case, you have to be aware of the fact that spending more than six months outside of the U.S. could also be an issue for your future Citizenship application.
Obtaining the green card can take years or decades for some. I see many individuals lose their status because they are unaware of the harsh regulations on the topic of abandonment of residency status. They are often surprised to hear that they will not recover this status, despite lengthy battles with the Immigration Court. Therefore, if you are an LPR and have to spend an extensive period of time outside the US, call us today to schedule an appointment to review your options (reentry permit, etc) and their consequences with our Board Certified Immigration Lawyers!