Traveling & The Green Card - How Long Can You Stay Away?

Although you may travel away from the United States as a green card holder, you cannot remain abroad continuously for too long. Absences of more than one year create what's known as a rebuttable presumptio n that the legal permanent resident (LPR) abandoned his or her green card status and therefore cannot use the green card to re-enter the United States. Although your green card allows you to stay outside the United States for a period of six months to a year, you may not remain abroad continuously for over one year.

Green Cards and Proof of Intent

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may use any continuous absence of over one year to establish the legal permanent resident’s intent to abandon his or her status. The actual intent of the resident is key. If there is a family emergency, death or illness in the family, or other circumstance that requires the legal permanent resident to be absent from the United States for over one year, the resident should start gathering documents showing why an absence of over one year is necessary. This proof may include hospital records, death certificates, or affidavits from family members explaining why the applicant cannot return to the United States within the one-year period.

Obtaining an Immigrant Visa

Legal permanent residents who have remained outside the United States for over one year without a valid re-entry permit may still return to the United States by obtaining a new immigrant visa petition or in some cases, by filing a Returning Resident application. In order to obtain a new immigrant visa, a legal permanent resident is required to go through a process in which he or she voluntarily “surrenders” his or her green card and “abandon” their legal status in the United States. In these cases, the applicants must bring their passports and other required documents to the U.S. Consulate, including a certified affidavit agreeing to relinquish their LPR status in order to pursue a second immigrant visa petition. Although it sounds serious, the voluntary surrender of one’s green card is a common procedure accomplished by completing Form I-407.

Getting Help

Legal permanent residents intending to voluntarily surrender their status should consult an immigration attorney before signing Form I-407. You should never sign this form unless specifically counseled to do so by a professional. Ask your immigration lawyer for assistance before signing any form abandoning your status at any U.S. border, consulate or embassy, as doing so may have unexpected consequences on future applications for relief.