Permanent residence is not always as permanent as the name implies. For example, after a foreign national becomes a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. (a green card holder) the person may decide that he or she no longer wishes to live in the U.S., and abandon (give up) the green card and other immigration benefits. Or, the U.S. immigration authorities may be the one to determine that a person abandoned his or her residence based on the persons actions, such as having remained outside the U.S. for an extended amount of time or having no significant ties to the U.S., among other possibilities.
As a previous green card holder, if you are overseas, wish to return to the U.S, and realize that you are likely to have a problem with appearing to have abandoned your residence, you may apply for what's called a returning resident (SB-1) visa. You will be required to demonstrate that you still qualify for the green card and that you:
The application process involves filing State Department Form DS-117 at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The State Department recommends doing this three months before your intended return trip. You will also need to present:
You will be contacted for an interview with a consular officer, and given instructions on where to take a medical exam. At the interview, the officer will determine whether you qualify for the returning resident visa.This will involve double-checking that you remain eligible for a green card in the first place. If you have become inadmissible--for example, due to having developed a medical condition that presents a hazard to others, as revealed on the medical exam--this could create hurdles to the reentry process. For more information on inadmissibility, see our article on who can't get into the U.S.
If for some reason you do not qualify for the returning immigrant visa, but you still qualify for a green card on the same basis as your previous one, you can simply resubmit the same type of immigrant visa application. If your circumstances have changed, look into whether you qualify for another type of immigrant visa (green card).
For example, if you qualified for your previous green card as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or another green card holder, but your spouse is now deceased or you divorced, you would no longer qualify on that basis, so you will need to look at your other options. See our section on getting a green card for details.
After approval of the relative or employment-based visa, if you are residing outside the U.S., you will go through consular processing at the U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. See our article on what happens during consular processing for more on how that process works.