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What Green Card Holders Need to Know About Traveling Into and Out of the United States

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on September 27, 2014

Permanent residents (or green card holders) are generally required to live in the United States permanently or risk losing their permanent resident status. While this does not mean that a green card holder is prohibited from leaving the country for vacation or business travel, green card holders must be careful about lengthy or frequent trips made outside of the country.

While brief trips abroad are generally not a problem for green card holders, lengthy and frequent trips outside of the U.S. can present some challenges and could place your permanent resident status in jeopardy.  For instance, immigration officials may consider factors such as whether you intended to travel abroad temporarily and whether you maintained U.S. family and community ties, maintained U.S employment, filed U.S. income taxes as a resident, or otherwise established your intention to return to the United States as your permanent home. Other factors that may be considered include whether you maintained a U.S. mailing address, kept U.S. bank accounts and a valid U.S. driver’s license, own property or run a business in the United States, or any other evidence that supports the temporary nature of your absence.

Additionally, if you make frequent trips into and out of the United States, you could be considered a “commuter.” Permanent resident commuter status allows those persons who have been granted U.S. permanent resident status to live in Canada or Mexico without losing permanent resident status if they commute regularly to employment in the United States.

If a green card holder is deemed to have commuter status, he or she cannot petition entry for any family members or obtain U.S. citizenship. Although it is possible to return to permanent resident status, there could be a processing delay during the readjustment period. While the individual is considered a commuter, he or she must have a job or actively seek a job. If he or she is unable to find a job, the commuter status could be terminated.

It is important for foreign nationals to understand that Customs and Border Patrol, along with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, track the movements of visa holders, immigrants, and permanent residents into and out of the United States. Although there is no prohibition on traveling into and out of the U.S., it is imperative that the individual maintain valid visa or immigrant status so that they do not run into problems re-entering the United States.

The USCIS advises that if a green card holder plans to be out of the U.S. for more than one year, he or she should first apply for reentry permit on Form I-131. By obtaining a reentry permit prior to leaving the U.S., the green card holder can apply for admission into the U.S. while the permit is valid without first obtaining a returning resident visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.

Contact an Employment Immigration Attorney

You may also want to consult with an immigration lawyer before traveling out of the U.S. in order to ensure that you have the necessary documentation. The U.S. immigration lawyers at the Shapiro Law Group focus on helping foreign nationals obtain and maintain permanent resident status. If you are a green card holder and have questions about international travel, contact us at (847)564-0712 to speak with our experienced U.S. immigration attorney.