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Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

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  • Writer's pictureParviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

How to Return to the United States After 6+ Months Abroad as a Green Card Holder

By Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

Green Card Holders Traveling Abroad for Lengthy Periods Have Options

Sometimes life circumstances require U.S. legal permanent residents to travel and stay abroad for an extended period of time. 

Note: in this article, we’ll refer to “legal permanent residents” and “green card holders” interchangeably. 

Green card holders who must be absent from the U.S. for a significant period of time (6+ months) and be able to return to the U.S. have a few options: 

Article Outline: 

The topic is complicated and needs proper planning.

Here is a very brief overview of five paths that are available if you're a green card holder looking to take a lengthy trip abroad. The options below are presented in no particular order.

Note: to make an informed decision, you should discuss your situation with a qualified immigration lawyer.

Option 1 - Naturalize in the U.S.

At Malakouti Law, we prepare, file and represent people in their naturalization applications

Naturalizing in the U.S. would allow the green card holder to be absent indefinitely from the U.S., while preserving the right to return. 

Also, the person (hypothetically with sick parents abroad) can travel while the naturalization application is pending as long as they continue to fulfill both the continuous residence and physical presence requirements at the time of interview, as well as at the time of filing the naturalization (N-400) application. 

So with proper planning, the person could 

  1. First file the N-400, then 

  2. travel abroad while it is pending, then

  3. return to the U.S. for biometrics, naturalization interview and oath ceremony, then 

  4. go back abroad to help the hypothetical sick parent. 

A naturalized U.S. citizen can spend any amount of time abroad without risk to their ability to return to live in the United States. No further form or application is required.

This makes naturalization a good solution, from the immigration standpoint, for a green card holder who may want to stay outside of the United States for 6+ months. 

The main form used to file for U.S. naturalization is the N-400

Option 2 - Apply for a Re-Entry Permit (I-131)

A green card holder who needs to stay outside of the United States for a while can apply for a re-entry permit to be able to be absent for up to 2 years, and still (fairly reliably) be able to return to the U.S. as an LPR. 

The main form used to apply for a re-entry permit is an I-131

Option 3 - Just Go Abroad with No Preparation

Leaving Abroad for a Lengthy Stay without Preparation is Risky

Although we do not recommend this path, some green card holders just go abroad for a and attempt a re-entry to the U.S. on the green card after a lengthy period abroad. 

With good reasons for a lengthy abroad, strong self advocacy at the border, and LUCK in coming across the right CBP officer, they have a chance at re-entry as a green card holder, even after a lengthy period abroad. In some cases, even people who have been absent for over a year have regained entry to the United States on their green card. . 

Here’s a slightly technical explanation of how an absence from the United States is treated differently for purposes of keeping the green card versus for becoming eligible for U.S. naturalization

Effect of a Lengthy Absence on U.S. Naturalization Eligibility

The continuous absence of a green card holder for longer than a year from the U.S. (other than with a few narrow exceptions such as filing N-470), automatically breaks continuous residence for the purposes of a naturalization application eligibility. A “continuous absence” means a period outside of the U.S. without having stepped back in the U.S. for even a portion of a day. 

Effect of an Lengthy Absence on Ability to Keep the Legal Permanent Residency

But a continuous absence of a green card holder for longer than a year from the U.S. does not automatically result in loss of the legal permanent residence or inability to return, although the person faces a big risk of being challenged at the border by CBP and pressured to relinquish the green card or placed in removal proceeding (i.e. deportation court). 

This is a risky path, and we do not recommend it.

Option 4 File to abandon Legal Permanent Residency (I-407) 

If the person is married to a U.S. citizen, they can always file to abandon their legal permanent residency and then attempt to apply for a marriage-based green card again later. The legal permanent resident who's married to a U.S. citizen does qualify to apply again later for legal permanent residency as an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, but there are some very serious risks: 

Risk - Time Stuck Outside the USA

If forced to file for a green card abroad via consular processing, the person could be waiting for 1-1.5 years before being granted the immigrant visa to return to the U.S. as a legal permanent resident. 

With an immigration petition or a DS-260 pending, the person could also have significant difficulty overcoming immigrant intent (INA 214b) required to visit the U.S. while awaiting the immigrant visa. 

Risk - The Applicant is Subject to an Inadmissibility Evaluation (Again)

The person, as a new applicant for legal permanent residency is subject once again to the nasty grounds of inadmissibility in INA 212(d). Most importantly, due to consular non-reviewability, if the applicant is faced with a denial, their ability to challenge or appeal is extremely limited. 

Risk - If the Applicant is From a Country with Poor Relations with the U.S.

The 2024 election is right around the corner.

 If Donald Trump wins, and attempts another "muslim ban" like Presidential Proclamation 9645, the applicant (even as an immediate relative) from Iran, Yemen, Syria and a handful of other countries could be at risk of being hemmed up in administrative processing (INA 221(g)) for years, all while stuck outside of the U.S. 

Option 5 - Go Abroad and then File for a Returning Resident Visa (SB-1)

Legal permanent residents who end up staying outside of the United States can apply for an SB-1 “returning resident” visa to come back to the United States. 

Approval is far from guaranteed. 

Consult with Malakouti Law 

Each green card holder’s options need to be evaluated in light of their particular circumstances. Click here to book a consultation with Malakouti Law to discuss your options. 

Each immigration and citizenship case is particular and you should consult with a qualified immigration and citizenship lawyer about your case before taking any steps. The Law Office of Parviz Malakouti does not guarantee the accuracy of information presented nor assume responsibility for actions taken in reliance of this information. The information in this page could become outdated. Attorney marketing. 

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