As a conditional or permanent U.S. resident, foreign travel is one of the important rights that you enjoy. But certain important rules apply, which you should be aware of, regarding:
- in which country you actually maintain your permanent home, and
- what documents you need to show upon your return.
Keeping Your Primary Home in the U.S. So as Not to Abandon Your U.S. Residence
As the term “resident” suggests, your status comes with the expectation that you will reside -- that is, make your home -- in the United States. If you make your home outside the United States, you could lose your right to a green card.
Officers of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are on the front lines of deciding whether returning green card holders are actually living in some other country. The officer will, upon your return from foreign travel, ask when you left the United States, what you were doing while you were away, and where you make your home. If you were outside the U.S. for more than one year, and did not get advance permission before leaving, the law presumes that you abandoned your permanent residence. To challenge that presumption, you will probably have to attend Immigration Court and convince an Immigration Judge that you did not intend to abandon your status.
Does that mean you are safe as long as you return to the U.S. once a year? No! It's all a matter of your intent when you leave. If you've sold your U.S. house, enrolled the kids in school overseas, and quit your U.S. job, a CBP officer could, in theory, find that you abandoned your residence even if you attempt to reenter the U.S. after one day away.
Long trips away are, however, seen as a big clue that you might have abandoned your U.S. residence. Making many trips outside the U.S. creates a risk of being found to have abandoned your residency if, over the course of several years, you spend more time outside the U.S. than within it. Trips outside the U.S. for more than six months are treated more seriously than shorter trips, but even shorter trips can raise questions if you make so many that it looks like you are merely visiting the U.S. instead of living here.
If the border officer wonders whether you abandoned your permanent resident status, in addition to your length of time outside the U.S., the officer may look into whether you:
• pay U.S. taxes
• own a home or apartment or have a long-term lease in the United States
• were employed in the foreign country
• took your family to the foreign country
• are returning to the U.S. with a one-way ticket or a round-trip ticket back to the foreign country, and
• maintain other ties with the United States.
If you are returning after a trip of several months, you can make your entry to the United States easier by bringing copies of documents that show that your home base is still in the United States. These documents could include your U.S. tax returns, home lease, evidence of employment, or other relevant documents.
In case you have a problem convincing a border official that you did not abandon your permanent residence, know that you do not have to accept the officer’s decision as final. You have the right to present your case in Immigration Court. Only an Immigration Judge has the authority to make a final decision about whether you abandoned your status. For help with this, contact an attorney.
Get permission before leaving. If you know before your departure that you will have to spend more than a year outside the United States, apply for what's known as a reentry permit. Use USCIS Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, available for free download on the USCIS website. Be sure to check Box a in Part 2 for reentry permits. You will have to explain to USCIS the purpose of your trip and how much time you have already spent outside the United States. You do not need to wait for the permit to be approved before departing the U.S., but you do need to get your biometrics (fingerprints, photo, and signature) taken for the permit before you leave. USCIS will schedule you for a biometrics appointment after you submit the I-131; usually some weeks after.