Reentry Permit Process for U.S. Permanent Residents

Although you are certainly allowed to travel, and a green card (plus your own passport) is normally all you need for U.S. entry upon returning (and you'll still need to carry those), the situation changes a bit if you spend a long time outside the United States; a reentry permit might be your best bet.

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

If you are a U.S. lawful permanent resident (green card holder) who needs to spend a year or more outside the United States, you would be wise to get a travel document called a "reentry permit" before leaving. Although you are certainly allowed to travel, and a green card (plus foreign passport) is normally all that's needed for U.S. entry upon returning, the situation changes a bit if you spend a long time outside the United States.

U.S. immigration authorities will wonder whether you meant to abandon your U.S. residence, and can deny entry on that basis. In fact, after one year, your green card becomes invalid for U.S. entry. A reentry permit helps prove that you did not mean to give up your green card.

A reentry permit is also useful for another purpose, namely when you cannot, or do not wish to, get a passport from your home country. The permit (which looks very much like a passport) can be used in its place.

Here are some common questions and answers to help you better understand the reentry permit process.

How long will the reentry permit be valid for?

A reentry permit is typically valid for two years from its date of issue.

There's an exception, however, for U.S. conditional residents whose residency expiration date will come before that amount of time is up. They will be given a reentry permit good for only as long as their conditional residence lasts, and will be expected to apply for and obtain U.S permanent residence before requesting any more reentry permits.

You cannot extend the time on your reentry permit. If it expires, but you haven't yet finished with whatever took you outside the U.S., you will need to return to the U.S. and apply for a new one.

What is the process of applying for a reentry permit and what documents are required?

You must apply for your reentry permit before leaving the United States. The first step in this process is to fill out Form I-131, issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

This form is used for various different types of applications for travel documents, such as for people applying for Refugee Travel Documents, so simply skip over (don't fill out) the portions that don't apply to you.

You'll also need to gather the following to include when submitting your Form I-131.

  • proof of your permanent residency status, such as a copy of your green card (both sides) or of the passport page showing your admission as a permanent resident
  • Form G-1145, the purpose of which is to ask USCIS to notify you when it receives your application
  • the USCIS application fee, and
  • the biometrics (fingerprinting) fee (you will be called in for an appointment later).

You'll need to submit your application to USCIS by mail, using the address given on its website for Form I-131.

How long does it take to obtain a reentry permit?

It typically takes USCIS anywhere from 90 days to 7 months to make a decision on a reentry permit. For that reason, USCIS says that you should apply well in advance of your travel; at the very latest, 60 days before you depart.

You can check the status of USCIS's processing of your reentry permit on the USCIS My Case Status page.

As long as USCIS has received your application and called you in for your biometrics appointment, however, you do not need to wait in the U.S. until the reentry permit is approved. You can ask that it be sent to an overseas U.S. immigration office or consulate.

And if the situation gets urgent, it's possible to ask USCIS to expedite its decision on your application, per the standards in its Policy Manual at Volume 1, Part A, Chapter 5.

Can someone be denied a reentry permit?

A reentry permit can be denied for any of various reasons, including if you forget to include the appropriate documents or fee.

One obvious reason for denial is if you have a reentry document already and it is still valid. Of course, if you don't actually have it any more, because it was lost, stolen, or destroyed, you should explain that in your application, and USCIS can send you a new one.

People who have been denied a reentry permit can make an appeal with 33 days of receiving the denial letter. All instructions and requirements for the appeal will be stated in the letter.

Can traveling abroad still bring about problems even after successfully obtaining a reentry permit?

Yes. If you depart United States after having become inadmissible, or you become inadmissible while you're away, you may be denied entry upon return. Examples of ways that someone might become inadmissible include committing a crime, getting involved in terrorist activity, developing a medical problem that's seen as a risk to people in the U.S., and many other reasons.

In fact, it is even possible for the border officials who meet you upon your return to the U.S. to exclude you from entry based on you having abandoned your U.S. residence. Although the reentry permit creates a presumption that you did not intend to abandon your residence, if the official sees clear indications that you really were making your home elsewhere, you can be refused entry.

If you have any questions about your need for a reentry permit or the process of applying for one, contact an experienced U.S. immigration attorney. The attorney can help you with the application and provide you with the guidance you need to protect your right to return to the United States.

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