How long can I stay outside of the United States with my green card?
If you have a green card, you might want to know how long you can stay outside of the United States.
What is a green card?
A green card is a document which shows that you are a legal permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. You can get a green card through a family relationship with an American citizen, employment, extraordinary ability, investment, by winning it in the diversity visa lottery, or through a number of other programs – many of which are designed to protect people in difficult situations, such as refugees, the victims of human trafficking, etc.
The term permanent resident implies that you have made the United States your home and that you do not intend to permanently live anywhere else. If you are a green card holder and you move to another country with the intent to live there permanently, you no longer meet the requirements of permanent residency in the United States.
But what if you plan to leave for a longer period of time and eventually come back? Generally, you can remain outside of the United States as a permanent resident for less than 6 months without risking your residency status. This doesn’t mean that you can leave for 6 months, come back for a week, leave for another six months, return for a week, etc., etc. without running into problems. An immigration officer at the airport or border will see your travel pattern and have doubts that you are actually a resident of the U.S.A. In this case, you would be at risk of losing your status.
More than Six Months
If you leave for more than six months but less than one year, you should expect to be questioned about your residency when you re-enter the United States. You will need to be able to explain why you were out of the country for so long and how you continued to be a resident of the United States (for example, you maintained an apartment there, most of your clothes and belongings are in the U.S.A., you continued to file taxes, etc.)
If you want to stay outside of the United States for a long period of time, it is a good idea to apply for a re-entry permit, which gives you permission to leave the country for up to two years without losing your residency. Keep in mind that the two-year period cannot be extended.
If you have been out of the United States for over a year, you will be presumed to have lost your LPR status. If you have a good reason for your long absence (for example, you got sick and could not travel for many months), you can apply for an SB-1 visa to return. It is generally a good idea to speak with an expert before applying for an SB-1 visa.
Former green card holders
Finally, what should you do if you have been out of the United States for a year or more and don’t have a really good reason for your absence? If you want to travel back to the United States for any reason, you are going to need to get a new visa. If you want to get your permanent resident status back, you will need to qualify for an immigrant visa of some sort but there are many other types of visas for temporary trips for business or leisure. If you're not sure what the best option is for you, you should seek expert advice.
This general information is not intended as legal advice. Everyone’s situation is different, so please get in touch for advice that is specific to you.