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When you become a permanent resident of the United States, you’re allowed to travel without jeopardizing your status. You are expected to reside in the U.S., but you can return home to visit your family or take vacations abroad. When you’re done having fun, you can return to your home in the United States. 

If you plan to do a lot of traveling or are arranging an extended stay abroad, your travel plans might need to include a re-entry permit. Here’s what you need to know about when to get a re-entry permit and how to apply for one. 


What Is a Re-Entry Permit?

A re-entry permit is a special permit that allows people with permanent resident status to travel outside of the country for long periods. You don’t need a re-entry permit if you plan to travel Europe for a month or spend the winter in Australia. You only need a re-entry permit if your stay outside of the country might be a year or more or if you are spending more of your time outside the U.S. than in the U.S.


Why Do You Need a Re-Entry Permit?

Obtaining a re-entry permit can prevent common issues that may occur when a permanent resident attempts to re-enter the United States after a lengthy trip outside of the country. Long trips can be misconstrued as abandoning your permanent resident status if you don’t take the proper precaution of getting a re-entry permit.


You May Be Gone for a Year or More

You can technically be found to have abandoned your green card if you leave the United States for a year or longer or if you are spending more time outside the U.S. than in the country. If there’s a chance you may be traveling for longer than one year or need to be outside the U.S. a lot, obtaining a re-entry permit shows that you always planned to return to your home in the United States. 


You Plan to Establish a Residence in Another Country

If you plan to buy or rent a home while you’re traveling outside of the country, a re-entry permit will show that you don’t intend to maintain that property as a primary residence. This is helpful if you’re purchasing or renting a vacation home abroad or if you’re purchasing property for your family who lives abroad. 


Who Cannot Have a Re-Entry Permit?

There are some cases in which you won’t be granted a re-entry permit. You will not be granted a re-entry permit if you were not in the United States at the time of filing. You may also be denied a re-entry permit if you have previously been issued one or more such permits. You may not be allowed to re-enter the United States if your green card has expired or if you appear to have abandoned your permanent residency in the United States.


People Whose Permanent Resident Status Has Expired

Some green cards don’t expire, but most expire after ten years. You need to renew your green card to have proof of your status. If you hold conditional permanent resident status, your green card is only valid for two years; your status terminates automatically if you do not timely file for removal of the conditions on your residence. If you’ve traveled outside of the United States and allowed your green card to expire, you may not be able to re-enter the United States with a re-entry permit. You may need to apply for a returning resident visa. 

If you’re planning to travel abroad close to the expiration date of your green card, be mindful. In order to prioritize your status, it’s best to wait until you’ve completed all your requirements in the United States before you attempt to leave the country. 


People Who Have Abandoned Their Permanent Resident Status

If you’ve established a life in another country, you’re considered to have abandoned your permanent resident status. Long-term property rental or finding a job in another country could be construed as abandoning your permanent resident status, especially if you stayed in that country for a year or more. 


How Long Is a Re-Entry Permit Valid?

Re-entry permits are valid for up to two years from the date they’re issued. You need to apply for your re-entry permit before you depart the United States. If there’s any chance you’ll be gone for a year or slightly longer, you should preemptively apply for a re-entry permit. 


How to Apply for a Re-Entry Permit

If you know your next trip outside of the United States might be a long one, you’ll need to apply for a re-entry permit. Below, you’ll find when and how to apply for this important document.


When to Apply for a Re-Entry Permit

You need to apply for a re-entry permit before you leave the United States. USCIS wants to know that you intend to return before your trip has started. It can take a while to process the required forms, so USCIS recommends applying for a re-entry permit at least 60 days before you’re due to depart.

You may not always have 60 days of lead time before you leave the United States. If you’re dealing with a family emergency or other unplanned reason for travel, you can apply as soon as you’re aware you’ll need to leave.

You must be physically present in the United States to apply for a re-entry permit, but you don’t need to be present in the United States for the document to be approved. If your reason for travel is urgent, you can depart the U.S. and request that your re-entry permit be sent to the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate at your destination. 


File Form I-131

Form 1-131 is called an Application for Travel Document. This is the application you need to apply for your re-entry permit. An important part of the application process is submitting your biometrics at your local Application Support Center (ASC). You’ll need to appear for your biometrics appointment in the United States. You should not depart the United States before you have attended a biometrics appointment. 

You can leave after you’ve completed both of those tasks, even if you haven’t received your travel document. Just request for it to be sent overseas to you.


How Long Does It Take To Process a Re-Entry Permit?

It is currently taking USCIS 12 months or more to process an application for a re-entry permit, but in some cases, it may take longer. That’s why USCIS allows re-entry permits to be sent overseas once they’re approved. 

If you return home to the United States before your re-entry permit arrives at your travel destination, that’s fine. If it’s been less than a year, you won’t need your re-entry permit to get back into the United States, and you’ll be unlikely to encounter any problems.


How Much Does a Re-Entry Permit Cost?

There are two fees for a re-entry permit. You need to pay the filing fee when you file the paperwork, which is $575. You’ll also need to pay the fee for your biometrics appointment, which is $85. 


What Happens If I Leave the U.S. Without a Re-Entry Permit?

You don’t always need a re-entry permit to leave the U.S. If you’ll be gone for less than a year, you likely will not have a problem returning to the United States unless you have a history of lengthy absences from the United States. If your trip ran longer than you expected or if you failed to plan properly for your extended trip, you only have two options.


Come Back Early

If you haven’t yet been gone for a full year, take the next flight back to the United States. Cutting your trip short will save you the hassle associated with an extended stay outside of the country without a re-entry permit. You can return to your destination or resume travel at a later date after you’ve received the proper paperwork. 


Request a Returning Resident Visa

If you’ve left for longer than a year without a re-entry permit, you’ll need to go to your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate to request a returning resident visa. This is a special visa that will allow you to re-enter the United States to continue your residence. To obtain a returning resident visa, you will need to convince a consular official you remained outside the U.S. for a year or more due to circumstances beyond your control.


What Should I Do If My Re-Entry Permit Expires?

You should avoid allowing your re-entry permit to expire while you’re outside of the country. Re-entry permits cannot be extended. They’ll always have the expiration date clearly indicated on the document. You can re-apply for a re-entry permit as many times as you’d like, but you need to be in the United States for the re-application process. 

If your re-entry permit is about to expire, return to the United States. Submit a new Form I-131 and attend a new ASC biometrics appointment. You can leave the country again. 

If your re-entry permit expires while you are outside the U.S., you will need to apply for a Returning Resident Visa.


What If My Request for a Re-Entry Permit is Denied?

If your permanent resident status is in good standing, you attended your biometrics appointment, you paid all your fees, and you accurately completed the proper paperwork, it would be unusual for a re-entry permit to be denied. However, re-entry permits can be denied for a variety of reasons. If you don’t understand why your request was denied and you know you’ve been fully compliant with immigration, you should contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney. 


Can I Be Denied Re-Entry to the U.S. With a Re-Entry Permit?

Yes. However, if you’re attempting to re-enter the United States with a valid re-entry permit, you shouldn’t encounter any issues. As long as you’ve followed the process as outlined by the law and your green card status remains in good standing, there’s no reason for you to be turned away for re-entry.


Do You Need Help With Travel Documents?

If you’ve been denied a re-entry permit or if you’re perceived as abandoning your permanent resident status, you need the help of a competent immigration attorney. Cohen, Tucker & Ades has been serving immigrants and their families for over 40 years. Our team of detail-oriented and compassionate immigration lawyers can help you resolve travel-related issues. Contact us if you’re having trouble with the re-entry process for a consultation.


I-131, Application for Travel Document | USCIS

Preparing for Your Biometric Services Appointment | USCIS

Returning Resident Visas | US Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs



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