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Can green card holders leave the country? Understanding reentry permits

For lawful permanent residents of the United States – otherwise known as legal immigrants or green card holders – travel out of the U.S. and back is generally permitted with few restrictions. However, there are some limitations and situations where you may need to get a reentry permit to keep your immigration status intact.

As U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services notes, your green card actually becomes invalid if you leave the U.S. for more than a year, or even less than that if you take up residence in another country. In some situations, such as traveling home to visit family members you have worked to send money to support, a long-term stay may be required.

However, being approved for a reentry permit essentially declares that you want to remain a permanent resident of the U.S. even though you are going abroad, and can allow you stay abroad for two years. Without it, you will need to apply for a returning resident visa and perhaps even appear before a judge.

Application must be filed before traveling

One of the key points in applying for a reentry permit is that you need to start the process before you leave the country. You need to be physically in the U.S. to file.

Once you do so, you will be given an appointment time for an Application Support Center for your biometric information. All of this needs to be completed before you leave the U.S., or your permit may be denied.

Once your biometrics have been taken, you no longer need to wait for the final approval of the permit, although USCIS says it is recommended. If you want, the permit can be sent to a U.S. Embassy, consulate or other office overseas, and you can pick it up there.

If you cannot wait to file the form and must leave the country, remember that you only need a reentry permit if you will be outside of the U.S. for a year or more. If you are away for less than that, you can simply use your green card as your travel document.

Permits cannot be extended, so if your permit expires you will need to obtain a new one. However, you don't need to send in any expired permits.

Helpful links

I-131 Form Details and Fees

I-131 Form

Form Instructions

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