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TRAVELING & STAYING OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES WHILE A LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENT (GREEN CARD)

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Hello everyone! In this week's article, I will be addressing a common question that many of you may have; that is, traveling out of the country while you are a lawful permanent resident (commonly referred to as "green card" holder). I have received countless emails and phone calls about this topic, and now I will provide you readers with a comprehensive answer. 

Permanent Resident Cards: "Green Cards" In General

First of all, let's examine the permanent resident card. Your 'green card' is proof of your lawful status as a resident of the United States. Among the rights enjoyed by those with a green card is the right to travel outside the U.S. and, more importantly, the right to reenter the country. This card is especially important and necessary whenever you travel because you will need to present this card to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer (CBP) upon your arrival back to the U.S. At the port of entry (POE), an Immigration officer will examine not only your green card, but also other identity documents such as your passport, I.D., etc. in order to determine whether or not you can enter back into the U.S. CBP officers have the power to decide whether returning green card holders were living outside the United States (i.e., no intent to make the U.S. their permanent home!) – and if they believe you did, to take steps to have your green card revoked/cancelled! We don't want that to happen, so continue reading...

Conditional and Non-Conditional Green Cards

For the most part, there are 2 types of green cards: One is the "conditional" green card which has a 2-year validity period, and the other is a non-conditional, "permanent resident" green card which is usually valid for 10 years or more.  Whenever your status is adjusted within 2 years of marriage, you will receive a "conditional" green card that is valid for 2 years. (ALERT: In order to maintain lawful immigration status, you must petition immigration to remove those conditions prior to this 2 year expiration. If you fail to do so, your green card will expire automatically and you will not be in lawful status. For more information about this, please read my past articles at: WWW.JC4LAW.COM or at WWW.SEREECHAI.COM; "Law Corner With JC"). Althought both give you the right to travel, there are limitations on the length of time you can be outside of the U.S. With both, if you spend too much time outside the United States, the government may find that you have "abondoned" your green card because you did not intend to make the U.S. your permanent home. If this happens, the Immigration officer may deny your reentry upon your return from overseas travel.

Warning : "Abondonment" of Your Green Card

As previously mentioned, a right to travel is enjoyed by all green card holders, however, this right is limited. If upon your return from travel, the Immigration officer determines that your trip was overly lengthy and that you did not intend for the U.S. to be your permanent home, then it may be found that you have "abondoned" your lawful residency status. In fact, your trip does not necessarily have to be all that long: any length of time, even for 1 day, can be enough to trigger a CBP officer's suspicion that you did not intend to make the U.S. your permanent home. It all depends on the circumstances.

2 Year Conditional Green Card Holders: There's an additional concern if you received your conditional residence based on marriage to a U.S. citizen. If you spend a long time outside the U.S. while your spouse remains here, this may make it difficult to prove that your marriage is bonafide or real; which is the single, most important factor you must prove when converting your 2 year conditional green card to a 10 year permanent green card! The reason why is because a lengthy separation is evidence that you and your spouse are not sharing a life together. In this case, you must have sufficient evidence and a reasonable explanation to overcome this presumption. Please consult my office should you find yourself in this predicament.

Duration of Your Stay Outside of the United States and Presumptions

So how long can you remain outside of the U.S.?  My office has the following recommendations, depending on whether you hold a 2 year conditional green card or a 10 year permanent green card.

  • If you currently hold a 2 year conditional green card --> We don't recommend that you remain outside of the U.S. for very long. I would say 6 months* duration max, and an even shorter period if your spouse will not be traveling with you. Again, the reason why is because you might have difficulty convincing an immigration officer that you and your spouse share a bonafide marriage if you and your spouse are separated for a lengthy period because of your travel. Many of my clients have gone back to visit their family in Thailand for 1 or 2 months without any problems. However, please keep in mind that each case is different and past successful results do not guarantee the same result in the future.
  • If you currently hold a 2 year conditional green card and have already submitted, or are about to submit your petition to remove those conditions --> we do not recommend that you take any lengthy trips outside the U.S. while your case is being adjudicated. My best advice is, if your travel is not medically necessary or a family emergency, don't go. If your case is denied while you are outside of the U.S., you may not be able to re-enter and may be referred to an Immigration Judge for a removal/deportation hearing.
  • If you currently hold a 10 year green card --> Although your stay outside of the U.S. can be longer than those with 2 year conditional green cards, I would not advise any stay over 1 year without further steps such as obtaining a reentry permit prior to your travel. This permit is generally for lawful permanent residents (or conditional permanent residents; which I do not advise) who wish to remain outside of the U.S. for over 1 year, and less than 2 years. Obtaining a reentry permit will help you avoid a determination by the CBP officer that you have abandoned your conditional residence.

*NOTE: An absence from the United States for 1 year or more will generally break the continuity of your required continuous residence for the purpose of naturalization to become a U.S. Citizen. You may, however, take steps to preserve your continuous residency in the United States for naturalization purposes for such lengthy trips. To do this, you must apply with USCIS to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes.

So there you are: information regarding traveling overseas and remaining outside of the United States while you are a lawful permanent resident. Recap: although it is acceptable, travel is restricted and limited (For more freedom to travel without restrictions and limits, consider applying for Naturalization to become a U.S. Citizen!!!). If not necessary, do not remain outside of the U.S. for extended periods of time, and always keep connections to the U.S. which tend to show your intent to maintain this country as your permanent home.

If you still have questions, need assistance with your green card, travel documents, or any other legal issues, please contact my office at (818) 846-5639, or my Thai direct line at (818) 505-4921. Also, if you have any questions that you would like to be answered in future articles, please email me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit my website at: WWW.JC4LAW.COM for general information regarding this and many other topics in Business, Property and Family Law.

Disclaimer: The information contained herein have been prepared for informational purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice unless otherwise specified. All opinions expressed are those of the author and in no way shall be associated with Sereechai Newspaper. If you have a specific question regarding your personal case, please contact the Law Offices of Joseph Chitmongran for a full consultation.