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Options for Green Card Holders Residing Abroad

U.S. permanent resident – commonly known as the green card – allows a citizen of another country to reside in the United States on a permanent basis. The resident is free to work (or not work), attend school, start a business, and/or otherwise do anything he or she wants to do.

Permanent residents are also free to travel outside the United States. However, problems may arise if the resident stays outside the United States for an extended duration.

Residing Outside the United States for 6+ Months

To be eligible for U.S. citizenship, naturalization applicants must demonstrate that they have: 1) continuously resided in the United States for at least five (5) years prior to applying, or 2) continuously resident in the United States for at least three (3) years if the green card was obtained through marriage.

A resident who resides outside the United States for more than six months could break the continuous residence requirement to be eligible to naturalize as a U.S. citizen. This could delay the resident’s first eligible date to naturalize as a U.S. citizen.

Re-Entry Permits

Green card holders who have resided outside the United States for more than one continuous year could be determined to have abandoned U.S. residency – and the United States could require the resident to surrender or relinquish his or her green card. Green card holders who plan to reside outside of the United States for more than a year should first apply for and obtain a Re-Entry Permit (REP) prior to departing. The REP could allow the green card holder to return to the United States even if he or she has been abroad for up to two (2) years.

Returning Resident Visas

If a green card holder has resided outside the United States for more than a year, or beyond the validity of his or her REP, then a Returning Resident Visa (RRV) may be required. However, there are limitations on the eligibility for a RRV. Specifically, a green card holder may only apply for a RRV if circumstances beyond his or her control prevented them from returning to the United States within a year, or within the validity period of the REP.

In determining whether to approve a RRV, the consular officer considers whether the green card holder:

• Had a valid green card at the time of departure from the United States
• Departed with the intention of returning and that he or she did not abandon this intention
• Remained outside the United States for reasons beyond his or her control and for which he or she was not responsible

Conclusion

Think of the green card as a “use it or lose it” privilege.  So long as you demonstrate that you reside in the United States on a permanent and ongoing basis, you get to keep it.  The longer your visits abroad, the greater your chances of losing it.  If you plan to naturalize, keep your trips to less than six months.  If you plan to leave the United States for more than a year, obtain a Re-Entry Permit to protect yourself from having to surrender your green card.  Worse case scenario, if a dire situation prevented you from returning home while abroad, the Returning Resident Visa may be a last ditch option.