Before you take a long trip abroad as a green card holder, you need to do some things to ensure you can return to the United States without trouble. To keep your immigration status, you'll need to make it clear to the U.S. government that you are not abandoning your status as a permanent U.S. resident. One way to do this is to apply for a re-entry permit before your long trip outside of the United States. This article is a one-stop guide to everything you should know about re-entry permits for green card holders. You'll learn what a re-entry permit is, who needs it, how to get it, and other travel considerations.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated October 10, 2022
What Is a Re-Entry Permit?
A re-entry permit is an official U.S. travel document. Lawful permanent residents (also called LPRs or green card holders) who plan to take long trips abroad must first obtain a valid re-entry permit. With a re-entry permit, traveling green card holders can maintain their U.S. residence without risking their immigration status.
People with permanent resident cards (or green cards) must maintain a continuous residence in the United States, so the U.S. government does not permit lengthy trips abroad without proper documentation. When a green card holder travels abroad for over a year, the U.S. government may revoke their permanent residence status.
Re-entry permits indicate to the U.S. government that you will eventually return from your long trip abroad and continue maintaining your residence in the United States. With a re-entry permit, U.S. immigration officials such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers won’t accuse you of abandoning your U.S. residence.
Is a Re-Entry Permit the Same as Advance Parole?
Advance Parole is another type of travel document. Foreign nationals in the United States who are still awaiting a decision on their green card application will need to apply for Advance Parole if they must travel abroad. Unless you have Advance Parole, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), will terminate your green card application if you exit the United States while awaiting your application decision.
The U.S. green card application process can take months to several years, and applicants may have commitments they need to attend to abroad during this period. For any trip a green card applicant takes, both short and long, that applicant should be sure to secure Advance Parole before leaving the country.
If you are already a U.S. green card holder, you should not apply for Advance Parole. Instead, you will need to obtain a re-entry permit, a different travel document specifically for current green card holders.
Who Needs a Re-Entry Permit?
You will need to apply for a re-entry permit if you hope to maintain your permanent residence status while traveling abroad. As a green card holder, you should apply for a re-entry permit if you will travel outside of the United States and remain abroad for over a year but less than two years.
You may be taking a trip abroad for less than one year. In this case, you won’t need to apply for a re-entry permit. For short trips, your green card will stay valid without a re-entry permit. You should, however, be sure to maintain ties to the United States. If a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer believes that you planned to relocate permanently to a different country, they might deny your re-entry to the United States. So, you should maintain ties to the United States during trips abroad through keeping family ties, tax filings, a U.S. mailing address, or ongoing employment in the United States.
If you take a trip abroad for longer than two years or if you fail to apply for a re-entry permit before leaving the United States, you should not and cannot obtain a re-entry permit. In this case, you must apply for an SB-1 visa or a “Returning Resident Visa” through your local U.S. consulate or embassy before you try to return to the United States.
How Do You Apply for a Re-Entry Permit?
If you would like to apply for a re-entry permit, you will need to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Form I-131 will ask you about the trip you plan to take abroad. The form will ask questions about your trip, your history of foreign travel while holding a green card, and your history of filing U.S. tax returns.
You need to file Form I-131 from within the United States. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends that you file Form I-131 at least 60 days before you intend to travel. When you apply for a re-entry permit, USCIS also requires you to attend a biometrics appointment in the United States. Suppose you have already left the United States. In that case, USCIS will deny your application for a travel document since you will be unable to attend the biometrics appointment at a U.S. office while abroad.
If you must travel before receiving your physical re-entry permit, USCIS will allow you to do so. As long as you have filed Form I-131 and completed your biometrics appointment, you may travel abroad. You may write on Form I-131 that you prefer to receive your re-entry permit at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the country to which you will be traveling. USCIS will then send your re-entry permit to this location for collection.
There is a $575 filing fee for Form I-131. For those between the ages of 14 and 79, there is an additional $85 biometrics fee to schedule the appointment. You may pay filing fees at a USCIS lockbox or service center. You can pay the fee with a money order, personal check, cashier’s check, or by credit card with Form G-1450 or the “Authorization for Credit Card Transactions” form.
To help determine whether you should send your re-entry permit to a U.S. embassy or consulate, check out our article on USCIS’s typical processing times.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Re-Entry Permit?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) usually takes anywhere between 90 days to seven months to determine whether you should receive a re-entry permit. So, USCIS typically recommends that re-entry permit applicants submit Form I-131 at least 60 days before their intended departure date.
Once you have filed Form I-131, you can check USCIS’s processing status for your re-entry permit on their My Case Status page. You will need the receipt number from your receipt notice to check your status.
Remember that even if you haven’t yet received your re-entry permit, you may still travel abroad after filing Form I-131 and completing your biometrics appointment. You should just make sure that you indicate on Form I-131 that you would like USCIS to send your re-entry permit to your local U.S. embassy or consulate.
What Else Should You Know About Traveling With a Re-Entry Permit?
When you travel back to the United States, you must bring your re-entry permit, green card, and passport with you. When you reach a port of entry or airport, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration officer will review your documents and ask you questions about your trip. If they don’t have any concerns, they will admit you to the United States.
Keep in mind that re-entry permits don’t guarantee you the ability to reenter the United States after a long trip abroad. You must also show that you have maintained ties to the United States and did not intend on permanently settling elsewhere. A CBP official may question you further if they believe you have abandoned your U.S. residence. If the CBP official at your point of entry determines that you have not held clear ties to the United States or intended to settle elsewhere permanently, they can reject your re-entry even if you have a permit.
Additionally, If you leave the United States after becoming inadmissible or if you become inadmissible during your trip abroad, you likely won’t be allowed to reenter the United States. You may become inadmissible if you violate U.S. immigration law, commit a crime, become involved in terrorism, or catch an infectious disease.
You cannot renew or extend a re-entry permit. So, you must apply for a new re-entry permit if you need to travel back abroad past the expiration date of your first permit. Since you have to be physically present in the United States to apply for a new re-entry permit, you must return to the United States to re-file Form I-131 and attend another biometrics appointment.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not place an official limit on the number of times you may apply for a re-entry permit. But, if you have spent over four of the last five years since becoming a green card holder abroad, USCIS will only issue you a re-entry permit for one year. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as exceptions for employees of the U.S. government and elite athletes.
The best way to ensure that you will be able to return to the United States after long trips abroad is to become a U.S. citizen. As a citizen, you will have the freedom to travel without seeking re-entry permits or needing to prove your continuous residence. The U.S. naturalization process can be complicated, but working with a good immigration lawyer or immigration attorney can make it easier.
If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your citizenship case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to check your eligibility and see how we can help make your American dream come true!