Returning to the U.S. after a long trip abroad: what is a reentry permit and how it can help

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What is a reentry permit?

A reentry permit is a travel document that allows a green card holder (a Lawful Permanent Resident or Conditional Resident) to apply for admission to the U.S. after a long trip abroad (during the permit’s validity) without the need to obtain a Returning Resident Visa. It is also an extremely helpful document when proving the intent to maintain permanent residence in the U.S. after a long absence.

Why may one need a reentry permit?

There are different reasons why one may need a reentry permit. First and foremost, to keep his or her permanent resident status, a green card holder must maintain his or her primary residence in the U.S. Generally, if the Permanent or Conditional Resident (LPR) is absent from the U.S. for longer than 6 months but less than one year, Custom and Border Protection (CBP) Officers, Consular and Immigration Officers or Immigration Judges may think that the he or she does not intend to permanently reside in the United States anymore and that the LPR has abandoned his or her permanent residence. On the other hand, after an absence of more than one year, permanent resident status is considered abandoned, a green card becomes technically invalid for reentry in the U.S. and the LPR will most likely be denied admission with only the green card (aside from a few exceptions). In case of a prolonged absence from the U.S. (especially if the absence is for more than one year) a reentry permit can be very useful.

Therefore:

  • if an LPR plans to stay outside of the U.S. for more than one year but for less than two, he or she should obtain a reentry permit prior to traveling abroad. Indeed, upon return to the U.S. after one year outside, the LPR will most likely be denied admission with the green card alone.
  • if an LPR spends a considerable amount of time outside of the U.S. (even if each individual absence is less than one year) a reentry permit might help show the LPR’s continued intent to permanently reside in the U.S. and maintain LPR status. Indeed, an LPR in possession of a reentry permit, shall not be deemed to have abandoned LPR status based solely on the duration of the absence or absences while the permit is valid, thus creating a presumption that the LPR did not abandon his or her intent to remain permanently in the U.S. From a practical standpoint, this means that CBP Officers may not question the duration of an LPR’s travels and may not consider the LPR as having abandoned his or her green card on the sole basis of the length of the absence. However, they may still inquire about factors other than the duration of the absence (i.e.: purpose and termination date of the trip abroad, place of employment, property ownership in the U.S., presence of family in the U.S. and so on) to determine whether or not the LPR abandoned permanent residence. Nonetheless, a reentry permit remains a valuable document for a LPR who will be absent from the U.S. for a long period of time because it will help to show that the LPR intended to maintain residence in the U.S.
  • if, after a long absence, an LPR has been “warned” by a CBP Officer that he or she is at risk of abandonment, then it’s advisable for the LPR to obtain a reentry permit prior to leaving the U.S. again. A “warning” is a stamp and/or a note that a CBP Officer may place on the LPR’s passport and indicating that future absences from the U.S. may result in the abandonment of permanent residence. In such a case, a reentry permit may help show the LPR’s intent to maintain residence in the U.S.

Furthermore, a reentry permit can be used in lieu of a passport to travel to certain foreign countries in the following instances:

  • if an individual cannot or does not want to obtain a passport from their home country; or
  • if the foreign country does not honor the passport from the individual’s country of nationality.

It may be possible to use a reentry permit to travel to certain foreign countries because many countries around the world accept reentry permits as travel documents in place of a passport. However, before using a reentry permit to enter a foreign country, it is always advisable to check the visiting country’s policy on U.S. reentry permits.

When and where must a reentry permit be applied for?

A LPR must apply for the reentry permit before he or she leaves the U.S.  However, once USCIS has received the application (and after the LPR has provided his or her biometrics), the LPR can depart from the U.S. before a decision on his reentry permit is made. If the application is approved, the reentry permit will be delivered at the LPR’s address of choice in the U.S. or, if the LPR has requested so, at a Consulate, Embassy or DHS office abroad. Reentry permits are not delivered to foreign private addresses.

How long is a reentry permit valid for?

A reentry permit issued to an LPR is “usually” valid for 2 years from the date of issuance (“usually” because there are some specific exceptions to the two-years validity).

Can a reentry permit be extended?

No, a reentry permit may not be extended. As such, the LPR must return to the U.S. and apply for a new permit if he or she wishes to do so.

Can an application for a reentry permit be denied?

Yes, reentry permits can be denied for various reasons (i.e.: if the LPR already has a valid unexpired reentry permit, for failure to pay the appropriate fees, if the application is incomplete and so on). The denial of an application for a reentry permit can be appealed within a certain number of days of receiving the denial.

Does a reentry permit guarantee admission to the U.S.?

A reentry permit is an extremely helpful document but it does not guarantee admission to the U.S. Indeed, LPR’s who return after a long trip abroad are generally subject to the immigration inspection process and CBP officers at the port of entry have the right to refuse admission to any LPR if they find the LPR inadmissible for any reason (i.e.:  if the LPR has been convicted of or admits having committed certain crimes, has engaged in terrorist activities, or if the LPR falls within one of the grounds for inadmissibility/exclusion under U.S. immigration law).

In addition, it should be noted how CBP officers can still question an LPR’s intention to maintain permanent residence in the U.S., even if the LPR has a valid unexpired reentry permit. This is because reentry permits are presumptive (and not conclusive) evidence that an LPR did not abandon his or her permanent resident status. Therefore, in addition to the reentry permit, it is advisable that the LPR be prepared to present evidence of his or her intention to permanently reside in the U.S.

In conclusion, a reentry permit is the travel document that will allow a green card holder to seek admission to the U.S. after being abroad for over one year. It is also an extremely helpful piece of evidence when proving the intent to maintain permanent residence in the U.S. after a long absence. As such, it is advisable that LPR’s who plan to take a long trip abroad consult a competent immigration attorney to discuss applying for a reentry permit.

About the Author

Alessandro Giordano

Alessandro Giordano is a multilingual and multicultural immigration attorney. Practicing out of Tampa, FL, he serves clients nationally and worldwide.

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