How To Maintain Your Green Card Status When Stranded Abroad Due To Travel Ban

The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns and travel bans have impacted many who are stranded outside the United States. Travel restrictions and flight cancellations coupled with the fear of travel have had many green card holders stranded outside the U.S. This can be a serious problem when it comes to maintaining one’s permanent residency. USCIS requires that a green card holder should not remain outside the U.S. for a considerable amount of time, or risk abandonment of his green card.

Below we examine the Green Card rule regarding the need to be outside of the U.S. for an extended period of time and the options available to the green card holder.

What Is The Rule About Staying Outside The U.S. On A Green Card

USCIS states that a green card will be considered abandoned if the green card holder spends more than 365 days outside the country without a reentry permit. This essentially means that your green card is technically invalid for re-entry into the United States if you are absent from the U.S. for 1 year or more.

To avoid risking this, the green card holder has the option of applying for a reentry permit that may allow the holder to stay outside the country for a minimum period of 2 years without risking abandonment.

How To File For A Reentry Permit

If you want to get a re-entry permit because you will be staying outside the country for a longer period, you have to file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. This might also require a filing fees plus supporting documentation, and photos of the green card holder.

Please note

given the uncertainty during the pandemic, you should file this application well in advance of your planned trip.

Document List For Reentry Permit Application

  • A copy of the green card;
  • A copy of the alien registration receipt card;
  • A copy of the biographic page of the green card holder’s passport and the page of his passport indicating initial admission as a permanent resident;
  • Other evidence that the alien is a permanent resident;
  • A copy of the approval notice of a separate application for replacement of the alien registration receipt card or temporary evidence of permanent resident status.
How To Maintain Your Green Card Status When Stranded Abroad Due To Travel Ban

After Filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document

  • You will receive receipt notice from USCIS;
  • You will receive notice for Biometric appointment;
  • You will receive notice to appear for an interview;
  • Final decision.

Reentry Permit During Covid-19

USCIS rule 8 CFR 223.2 (b) (1)  requires reentry permits be applied for in-person and that the green card holder be physically present in the U.S. at the time of filing it. The date of receipt of the application is the date USCIS receives the reentry permit application. Now because of so many people stuck outside the country and unable to travel due to the pandemic, many are struggling to maintain and preserve their permanent residency status.  

Since the above rule stands firm even during the pandemic, it is advisable that all green card holders who have already spent a considerable amount of time outside the country make every possible attempt to return to the U.S. 

What Is The Alternative To Green Card Reentry Permit

How To Maintain Your Green Card Status When Stranded Abroad Due To Travel Ban

If you haven’t filed for a reentry permit in person before leaving the U.S. for a considerable amount of time, then you will either have abandoned your permanent residency status or face a harsh inquisition at the port of entry on your return. 

Ties To The U.S.

Having said that, other factors like having full employment, paying taxes, having active bank accounts and having a home in the U.S. are also saving factors in lieu of losing your green card status. If you can show evidence of these and show continues ties to the U.S. you can make a case to be allowed to re-enter the U.S.

Life/Death Or Health Reasons

Showing intent to return is a good way to prove that you didn’t intend to abandon your green card. Travel bans, lockdowns and flight cancellations are all good reasons if you can show proof of your inability to return to the U.S. in a timely manner.

Health reasons or death of a family member also is a reason that might be considered by an immigration officer at the port of entry. It is important to have sufficient documentary evidence at the time of seeking reentry to the U.S.

SB-1 Returning Resident Visa

 A green card holder abroad can file for SB-1 immigrant returning resident visa at their local U.S. consulate.  If approved, they may return to the U.S. as a returning resident. For this, you will have to show sufficient evidence to the consular officer to prove that circumstances were out of your control and you couldn’t return to the U.S. in a timely manner. Extraordinary circumstances include illness and/or death extreme weather or political events, or a pandemic like COVID-19.

Once reentry is granted, the green card holder will have to undergo biometrics and submission of fingerprinting. Once completed he will be issued a new green card.