Green card holders are permitted to travel internationally, but United States Citizenship and Immigration Services keeps an eye on how long permanent residents are out of the country — and these regulations have become stricter.
Green card holders cannot travel outside of the US for more than one year without a reentry permit.
What are the penalties for spending too much time outside of the US, and how can green card holders travel with more security?
Green Card Holder Travel Documents
Green card holders generally need a passport from their country of citizenship or a refugee travel document in order to travel to another country. If the country you are traveling to speaks a language which is not on your passport, getting a passport translation may be a good idea.
Foreign counties may also have additional requirements, such as a visa.
Green Card Holders: Establishing Continuous Physical Presence
Green card holders are required to “establish continuous physical presence” in order to maintain legal status.
Continuous physical presence is established by showing that there was no intent to abandon the green card and that the lawful permanent resident has maintained his or her ties in the US.
Green card holders can prove US ties through documents showing that they own a home or rent an apartment, or through financial and legal documents such as bank account statements and tax returns. However, it becomes far more difficult to prove US ties when the green card holder has been traveling abroad for more than one year.
Voluntary Departure & Starting Over
When a green card holder’s absence exceeds one year, he or she may be placed in removal proceedings. Once in removal proceedings, most people will have the option of requesting voluntary departure.
Voluntary departure allows the green card holder to give up his or her green card and any current applications that USCIS may be processing. Then the green card holder is free to go back to his or her home country.
If the request for voluntary departure is granted, then the process for a green card starts anew. For many, this is the best option, as there are no restrictions as to how soon one can reapply for a new green card after they voluntarily depart.
However, if voluntary departure is selected, the green card holder forfeits the right to present a defense to removal, such as asylum, withholding of removal, cancellation of removal, a petition through a family member or any other motions.
It is also very important when voluntary departure is granted that the green card holder leaves the United States on the specified date, otherwise a ban on reentering the United States may take effect. It could be up to 10 years before he or she can return.
Green Card Holder Travel Precautions
Green card holders can take precautions if they plan to travel outside of the United States for an extended period of time.
The primary and most effective way to be outside the United States for more than one year is obtaining a reentry permit.
A reentry permit can be issued by filling out Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. When granted, this document allows green card holders to be out of the country for up to two years without disrupting their continuous physical presence requirement.
Be aware that a reentry permit is different from an advance parole document (also applied for by filling out Form I-131), which merely lets you travel for a short period of time while your green card is pending.
Green Card Holder Travel May Affect Naturalization
Green card holders who wish to travel and one day apply for citizenship need to take an extra step.
According to USCIS, “absences from the United States of six months or more may disrupt the continuous residency required for naturalization.”
If you are traveling but would like to upkeep your permanent residency for naturalization purposes, you should file Form N-470, an Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes.
Many green card holders who exceed a one-year travel period without proper documentation are being placed in removal proceedings for failure to maintain continuous physical presence inside the United States.
The possibility of losing a green card due to travel is real. Green card holders who plan to travel must take preventative steps to ensure they’re aware of what steps to take to prevent problems upon their return to the US.
Note: This page is for general informational purposes only. LLS cannot give personal advice to any individual regarding immigration status. Please contact USCIS with any questions.