Can I Travel If I'm a Permanent Resident Awaiting My Green Card?

As a U.S. lawful permanent resident who hasn't yet gotten a green card, don't leave the U.S. without making sure there's an unexpired I-551 stamp in your passport.

By , J.D., University of Washington School of Law

After succeeding in gaining approval for U.S. lawful permanent residence or arriving in the U.S. as immigrants, it's not uncommon for these new residents to want to take a vacation abroad, or see family. But that can require some extra steps if they haven't yet received the actual U.S. green card they'll need to show the border officials upon U.S. reentry. What can you do to make sure you're allowed back into the United States after foreign travel?

How Long Will It Take for My Actual Green Card to Arrive?

Some people wait weeks or even months for their green cards to be produced and mailed to them. The agency in charge of this, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is perpetually backed up. It sometimes makes mistakes, as well. (If you change addresses, be sure to inform USCIS, which you can do online.)

If the wait for your green card goes beyond several weeks, try getting in touch with the USCIS Contact Center. This involves a long process of navigating a phone tree, and you'll probably need to request a callback rather than reaching a live person immediately. The USCIS officer you eventually reach, however, should be able to tell you what's taking so long to get you your green card,

What Alternatives Do I Have for Proving My Permanent Resident Status When Returning to the United States?

If you got your approval for permanent residence from a U.S. consulate, then entered the U.S. as a permanent resident, you should have been given a stamp in your passport (called an "I-551" or "ADIT" stamp) to show your new status. Double check your passport to make sure it's there, but they're unlikely to have forgotten.

The stamp in your passport will have an expiration date on it, which is usually six months from when it was placed there. As long as the expiration date hasn't passed, and won't pass while you are away from the U.S., you are free to travel and present this document upon return.

If they did forget, or if the stamp is going to expire before your return from traveling, get in touch with the USCIS Contact Center. They should be able to either arrange to mail you a substitute form of documentation (a Form I-94 with ADIT stamp, DHS seal, and your printed photo) or make an appointment for you to go to the nearest USCIS office.

Or, you can try requesting an in-person appointment directly, via USCIS's online "My Appointment" portal. This is new as of late 2023, so it's impossible to assess whether it will be faster than going through the Contact Center, or what happens if you try both at once. Also, getting an appointment isn't guaranteed; the agency will evaluate your need after you submit the request.

Once scheduled for an appointment, take your passport, along with any other form of photo ID you might have, as well as your immigration paperwork. USCIS should be able to stamp your passport during your visit.

What If the Passport Holding My U.S. Green Card ADIT Stamp Will Soon Expire?

Do check the expiration date on your passport itself. If it will expire while you're away, get a new one from your home country, if possible. But make sure you don't have to give the old one up. You will need to carry both the old and new passport with you, since the old one has the permanent resident stamp you will need for U.S. reentry.

What If I Lose the Passport Holding My U.S. Green Card Stamp?

Leave a photocopy of your passport and permanent residence stamp with someone who will be in the U.S. while you are away, in case your passport gets stolen or lost. If it is, you'll need to get a new passport, then go to the nearest U.S. consulate to get a new permanent residence stamp for U.S. reentry. Having a fax or scanned email with a copy of your permanent residence stamp will help enormously.

Final Precautions Before Traveling Outside the United States

For more information on traveling as a green card holder, see these articles on, After Getting Your Green Card: How to Keep It. They discuss, for instance, the fact that you shouldn't stay outside the U.S. for more than six months, or do anything else to indicate that your true intent is to live outside the United States while you're gone. People can lose their permanent residence by "abandoning" it.

Getting Legal Help

If you're having difficulty with anything described in this article, such as getting a new I-551 green card stamp or contacting USCIS, an immigration attorney can help.

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