U.S. Immigration law assumes that a person admitted to the United States as an immigrant will live in the United States permanently. Remaining outside the United States for more than 12 months may result in a loss of lawful permanent resident status.
U.S. Government personnel (military and direct-hire civil service employees), their spouses and minor children who hold lawful resident status of the United States may remain outside of the United States for the duration of an official overseas assignment plus four months without losing their resident status.
All other immigrants who hold permanent resident status and reside outside of the United States for more than 12 months without prior approval from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must obtain a new immigrant visa to return to the United States. Prior approval from USCIS consists of a re-entry permit which can only be applied for in the United States. The holder of a USCIS re-entry permit may remain outside of the United States during validity period of re-entry permit normally up to 24 months. For more details on applying for a reentry permit please visit the USCIS website.
A former immigrant who has lost permanent resident status and desires to return to the United States as an immigrant must obtain a new immigrant visa based on either an approved immigrant petition or returning resident status. A U.S. relative (spouse, parent, offspring or sibling) or U.S. employer may file an immigrant petition on behalf of the former immigrant in the normal manner. Information on the various types of immigrant and employment based petitions are contained elsewhere in this website.
The second way is for the immigrant to apply for returning resident status. An application for returning resident status requires evidence of the applicant’s continuing, unbroken ties to the United States, that the stay outside the United States was truly beyond the applicant’s control and that the intent of the applicant was to always return to the United States. Evidence may consist of continuous compliance with U.S. tax law, ownership of property and assets in the United States and maintenance of U.S. licenses and memberships. Having U.S. relatives, attending school overseas or stating an intent to return is generally insufficient.
To apply for returning resident status, see Returning Resident Visas Checklist.
Expired/Expiring Green Card
If you are outside the United States and your green card will expire within six months (but you will return within one year of your departure from the United States and before the card expires), you should file for your renewal card as soon as you return to the United States.
If you have one of the following items, a boarding foil is not required:
- An expired Permanent Resident Card with a 10-year expiration date
- An expired Permanent Resident Card (with a two-year validity), and a Form I-797, Notice of Action, indicating that status is extended
If you have an expired Green Card with a 2-year expiration date AND a Form I-797, Notice of Action, showing that they have filed a Form I-751 or Form I-829 to remove the conditions on their permanent resident status, the Form I-797 extends the validity of the card for a specified length of time, generally one year.
- Orders from the U.S. government (civilian or military) showing that time outside the United States was on official government business.
- A valid Reentry Permit
These individuals should consult their air carrier prior to completion of an I-131A and payment of the fee.
If you plan to stay outside of the United States for more than one year but less than two years in duration, a re-entry permit is needed for readmission. You must be physically present in the United States when you file the application (Form I-131). A re-entry permit may be sent to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad for you to pick up, if you request it when you file your application. Departure from the United States before a decision is made on a re-entry permit application does not affect the application.
Generally, a re-entry permit is issued for two years from the date of issuance. However, a re-entry permit issued to a conditional resident shall be valid either for two years from the date of issuance or to until the date by which the conditional resident must apply for removal of the conditions on his or her status, whichever date comes first. There are other exceptions, please contact USCIS for details.