Traveling Home with a Green Card

Written by Carmen Villamor

Sarah got the call she had been dreading. Her mother, who is back home in the Philippines has had a stroke. The doctors really don't know if she will be able to recover and regain her independence, or will need full-time health care. Sarah is devastated and needs to go home to care for her mother. She doesn't know how long she will need to stay but is committed to being there for her family no matter what. Can Sarah leave the U.S. without concern that her immigration status will be preserved?

Whether it's to tend to an ill family member, or perhaps for work, you may need to travel back to your country for a period of time. U.S. immigrants are often reluctant to leave for fear they won't be able to get back in the U.S., or will somehow jeopardize their status here. If you're living in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident (LPR) or have a green card, you can travel outside the U.S., with certain restrictions.

Generally, immigration will look at the duration of your travel, as it will speak of your intentions. While there is no set rule as to an acceptable length of time to be out of the country, anything over a year could be a red flag.

If you leave the country for an extended period of time, it can jeopardize your status because it demonstrates a different intention. To determine your intentions for travel, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will check the following:

•    Do you file U.S. taxes?
•    Do you have a U.S. mailing address?
•    Do you have a U.S. driver's license?
•    Do you own property or a business?
•    Have you already applied for citizenship?
•    Do you have family ties in the U.S.?

If you have a sick parent for instance and could feasibly be gone more than six months, it's a good idea to apply for a Re-entry Permit (Form I-131) prior to leaving the U.S. Filing this document provides no guarantee, but it establishes your intention. If you think there is a chance that you could be gone for a longer period of time, you should apply for a Returning Resident Visa (Form SB-1) at the U.S. Embassy.

If you’re an LPR and you're looking to be a naturalized citizen, any travel outside of the country may be limited by continuous residency requirements. It's required that you stay in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the last 5 years.

For the reasons above, a good general rule of thumb is to keep your travel to 6 months or less.

Have more questions about this topic?

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USCIS Form I-131 Application for Travel Document: