Leaving and Returning to the U.S. With a Green Card

If departing from the U.S. as a green card holder, you will need to take care to bring the proper documents, maintain your U.S. residence, and be aware of the risks of being found inadmissible or deportable upon your reentry.

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

If you are a U.S. green card holder (lawful permanent resident), the right to travel outside the United States and then return to your newfound U.S. home is one of the privileges that comes with your status as an immigrant. However, that does not mean that your U.S. reentry is guaranteed.

You will need to do the following as you prepare to depart:

  • be aware of the risks of being found inadmissible or deportable upon asking reentry to the United States (and thus potentially being denied entry or placed into removal proceedings)
  • maintain your U.S. residence while you are away, and
  • bring along not only your green card, but other important travel documents, such as your home country's passport.

This article will discuss all these issues.

Possibility of Being Found Inadmissible to the U.S. When Seeking Reentry

You might remember that, in order to obtain your green card in the first place, you had to prove that you were not "inadmissible" for reasons of health conditions, criminal convictions, the likelihood of becoming a public charge, and so on.

Under certain circumstances, these grounds of inadmissibility can be applied to you again, when requesting U.S. reentry. The circumstances (found in § 101(a)(13)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or I.N.A., or 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(13)(C)) include where you:

  • have abandoned or relinquished your status as a lawful permanent resident
  • have been absent from the U.S. for a continuous period of over 180 days
  • engaged in illegal activity after leaving the U.S.
  • left the U.S. while in removal or extradition proceedings
  • committed one of the crimes named in § 212(a)(2) of the I.N.A. or 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(2), (such as one crime of moral turpitude (CMT), a drug or trafficking crime, multiple crimes, prostitution, money laundering, security violations, and so on), unless later granted relief under Section 212(h) or 240A(a), or
  • are attempting to enter the United States at a time or place other than as designated by immigration officers.

A DUI conviction will not ordinarily bar someone from U.S. entry. However, if you have any sort of criminal violations on your record, you should not leave the United States without consulting with an experienced immigration attorney first.

If you are found inadmissible upon return to the United States, you could be barred from reentry for a number of years. If it looks like this is going to happen, your best bet might be to withdraw your request for entry, return to where you came from, and consult an immigration attorney before trying again.

Possibility of Being Found Deportable From the U.S. When Seeking Reentry

If U.S. immigration authorities notice, upon your request for U.S. reentry, that you have done something that makes you deportable but not inadmissible; for example, if you have been convicted of one of various crimes; you could be referred to Immigration Court for removal proceedings. Again, you will absolutely want to consult an immigration attorney under such circumstances.

Learn more about deportability and inadmissibility.

Documents to Bring When Traveling Outside the U.S. With a Green Card

Here's what to make sure you bring along on your trip outside the United States, for successful travel as well as return.

Passport From Country of Origin and Your U.S. Green Card

A U.S. green card is not sufficient by itself as a document for world travel, though it is enough to get you back into the United States. You will still need something with which to gain entry to other countries, most likely your passport (from your home country) and a visa, if required by the countries to which you are traveling.

Some countries will actually allow U.S. green card holders to use a U.S. reentry permit as a substitute for a passport. This way, they can place necessary visas and entry and exit stamps within the permit (which has several pages and looks somewhat like a passport). You will, however, need to research the requirements of any country you intend to visit.

Upon return to the United States, you will be expected to present your valid, unexpired green card for reentry. This is also known as a Permanent Resident Card or Form I-551. See below for information on what to do if you haven't yet received your actual green card.

Reentry Permit for Long Trips Outside the U.S.

If you believe you will be staying outside the United States for one year or more, you should get a reentry permit before leaving. Otherwise, when you try to return, U.S. border officials could claim you gave up your U.S. residence and are thus inadmissible, and ultimately cancel your green card. See Reentry Permit Process for U.S. Permanent Residents.

If You Haven't Yet Received Your Permanent Green Card: I-551 Stamp

If you don't have a green card yet, you can travel with an I-551 stamp in your passport. You will already have one if you got your approval for permanent residence from a U.S. consulate then entered the United States. The stamp will have an expiration date on it, usually six months from your entry date. As long as the expiration date hasn't passed, and won't pass while you are gone from the U.S., you are free to travel and present this document upon return.

If you don't have an I-551 stamp, or it's about to expire, contact USCIS. It might be able to make an appointment for you to visit a USCIS office in person and receive an I-551 stamp.

Or, if your conditional green card is past its two-year expiration date, you will need to bring the expired card as well as the receipt from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) showing that you filed your application to remove the conditions on residence (USCIS Form I-751) on time, and are awaiting a decision.

If You're Still in the Green Card Application Process: Use an Advance Parole Document

If you have applied for adjustment of status or asylum and your application is still pending with USCIS, you will also need to show an Advance Parole document, which indicates that you received permission to travel without having your application cancelled.

You might have already received this permission in the form of a notation on your work permit (EAD); look for a line saying, "Serves as I-512 Advance Parole." If not, look into applying for it, using USCIS Form I-131.

There is an exception to the Advance Parole requirement, as well: If you still have a valid H-1, H-4, L-1, L-2, K-3, K-4, V-2, or V-3 visa, you do not need Advance Parole to travel abroad after submitting an application to adjust status.

If You've Asked USCIS to Renew Your Green Card But Haven't Been Approved

If you filed a Form I-90 to renew your permanent resident status, but haven't yet received USCIS approval, you can still travel. Waits of a year or more for USCIS approval are all too common. Thus USCIS includes on the Form I-90 receipt notices it sends out an automatic extension of green card validity. Assuming you filed a complete I-90 application and fee, you should get this automatic extension. It normally will cover you for 12 months, but because of extra-long wait times, has been extended to 24 months.

When returning from foreign travel, you would be expected to show the receipt notices along with your expired green card.

If You Lose Your U.S. Green Card While Traveling: Transportation Letter

If your green card is lost or stolen while you are outside the United States, contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. It should be able to provide you with what's called a U.S. Government Transportation Letter, for travel to the United States.

If the green card was stolen, be sure to notify the local police, in order to obtain a police report. This will help you convince the consulate that you are acting in good faith and did not, for instance, sell your card.

When you reach the United States, the customs and border protection officials at the airport, border, or other entry point may also require you to complete USCIS Form I-90: Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card and pay the appropriate fee.

If Returning to the U.S. After a Long Trip: Reentry Permit

If you have been away from the United States for more than one year, you will also need either a Reentry Permit or (if you have been away for two years or more) a Returning Resident Visa to reenter the United States. For more information on why you might need one of these and how to apply, see Abandonment of Residence by U.S. Green Card Holders.

Even if you have been away from the United States for less than a year, you can be denied reentry if it appears that you cut ties to the United States and made your home elsewhere, which is called "abandonment of residence." Although U.S. immigration authorities start to look hard at returning residents after trips of six or more months or more, it is technically possible to abandon your U.S. residence in as little as a day. It's all about your intention when you left the United States.

The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors will look at things like whether you are routinely employed abroad, whether your primary family members are citizens or permanent residents of a foreign country and where they actually live, whether you still have a fixed address in the United States, and whether you frequently spend extended amounts of time outside the United States.

Get Help

Talk to an attorney if you have concerns about being allowed to reenter the United States after foreign travel.

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