As a green card holder, before you depart the United States for any trip abroad, you must make sure that your trip will not have a negative effect on your permanent resident status. If you will be abroad for less than a year, you'll only have to show your green card at a port of entry to be let back into the United States. If you'll be abroad for over one year, you must get a re-entry permit so you don't abandon your residency. If you end up staying abroad for more than 2 years due to circumstances beyond your control, you may apply for the SB-1 visa. This article explains the SB-1 visa, including the eligibility requirements and how to apply.
What is the SB-1 visa?
A Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa allows those who have surpassed a permanent resident card’s (or green card’s) limits on extended travel to return to the United States and resume their lawful permanent resident status. Both U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs) and conditional residents (CRs) may apply for an SB-1 visa if they have overstayed their visits abroad but can prove that returning to the United States was not possible for them at that time.
Who qualifies to apply for the SB-1 visa?
You qualify to apply for a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa if you meet the following eligibility guidelines:
- Before you left the United States, you held permanent residence status.
- When you left the United States, you intended to maintain your permanent residence status and return to the United States.
- You have spent over one year abroad because of factors beyond your control or responsibility.
- You are eligible for a U.S. immigrant visa. Note that if you have developed a criminal record while abroad, you may no longer be eligible for U.S. immigrant visas.
What is the SB-1 visa application process?
If you decide to apply for a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa, you must contact your local U.S. consular office for specific application instructions. The Bureau of Consular Affairs, an agency of the U.S. Department of State, recommends contacting your local consular office at least three months before your intended travel. The process will include filing two immigration forms and attending a consular interview. You can find more information about your specific process by searching for your consulate or embassy on the Department of State’s website.
Part 1: File Form DS-117
First, you will need to file Form DS-117 or the “Application to Determine Returning Resident Status.” The Department of State classifies Form DS-117 as a Special Visa Service. When you complete Form DS-117, you will need to submit evidence proving your eligibility for Returning Resident (SB-1) status. Examples of evidence include your Form I-151, I-551, reentry permits, airline tickets and passport stamps to prove dates of travel outside of the United States, and tax returns or evidence of economic, family, and social ties to the United States to prove that you had an intention of returning and that your trip was supposed to be a temporary visit. You will also need to provide documents proving that your overstay resulted from circumstances beyond your control. These documents may frequently include proof of medical incapacitation, employment with a U.S. company, accompanying a U.S. citizen spouse, or travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. All documents that you provide will be returned to you later. It’s a good idea to make copies of your supporting documents for your personal records.
After submitting Form DS-117, a consular officer will review your form and supporting documents to decide if you qualify for SB-1 status. Remember that, even if you do qualify for SB-1 status, you must also be eligible for U.S. immigrant visas to receive an SB-1 visa. If you have become ineligible during your time in the United States or abroad, you will not obtain a visa.
Part 2: File Form DS-260 & Attend Consular Interview
Your local U.S. embassy or consulate will notify you of specific instructions for the next step of the Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa application process. Typically, before your consular visa interview, your U.S. embassy or consulate-general will provide you with instructions for your medical examination, including a list of all required vaccinations to enter the United States. They will also provide instructions for your consular interview, instructing you to bring the following:
- Your original passport.
- Your completed Form DS-260 or the “Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application.” You must complete Form DS-260 on the U.S. Department of State’s Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website.
- Two photographs that meet the U.S. government’s photograph requirements.
- A list of civil documents that you must bring to your interview. These specific documents will vary at each U.S. embassy or consulate.
Be sure to consult your specific U.S. embassy or consulate’s website to review country-specific application requirements for the SB-1 visa.
How much does it cost to apply for the SB-1 visa?
To apply for the SB-1 visa, you must pay two separate fees. The first fee is a filing fee for Form DS-117. The current filing fee for Form DS-117 is $180. The second fee you will need to pay is an immigrant visa application processing fee of $205. You will be paying these fees to your local U.S. embassy or consulate. You should consult your local U.S. embassy or consulate’s website to confirm when you should make these payments and which payment methods are available. Check out our article for tips on affording filing fees.
What happens if your SB-1 visa application is not approved?
Your local U.S. consulate or embassy may determine that your Form DS-117 and supporting documents do not qualify you as a Returning Resident since you have abandoned your permanent residence in the United States. In some cases, you can still apply for a nonimmigrant visa to the United States if you have established a residence outside of the United States to which you intend to return. If you can’t provide enough evidence that you have established a residence abroad, you will need to apply for a new immigrant visa to return to the United States. You should apply under the same category and on the same basis as your original immigration application. You may wish to consult with an immigration law expert or attorney during this process. If so, you can find legal help at no or a low cost on the U.S. government’s Legal Aid website.
Once you’ve re-entered the United States as a lawful permanent resident again, the best way to ensure you can travel freely is by becoming a U.S. citizen. To apply for U.S. citizenship, you’ll have to go through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Applying for U.S. citizenship can be complicated, but working with a good 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 see how we can help make your American dream come true!