Imagine it is February 2020. You are a newly minted legal permanent resident (“LPR”) of the United States and are very happy you finally have the freedom to travel outside of the U.S. You fly to your country of origin to visit your relatives, planning on a three-week trip. But in the middle of your trip the COVID-19 virus spreads to many continents. Suddenly a world-wide pandemic is declared, and you are unable to fly back into the United States. What do you do?
For many green card holders last year the situation above became a real-life issue.
People all over the world were suddenly grounded from their flights, told they needed to get negative COVID tests before they flew, and were unable to find them. The government was so aware of it they published information for LPRs on traveling during the pandemic.
Thankfully obtaining a COVID test and result for travel is more readily available these days, and vaccine access is regularly growing, but with the threat of different virus variants, the concept of a dependable travel schedule is long gone.
That is why lawful permanent residents may want to consider filing one very important document process before they travel right now - a Form I-131 - Application for Travel Document.
Generally, an LPR cannot be outside of the United States for longer than one (1) year.
The United States expects legal permanent residents to want to reside in the U.S., and if the government feels that you have abandoned your desire for residency, it may revoke your residency status. Thankfully, there are situations where the government recognizes the need for people to stay out of the country for longer periods of time. In that case a reentry permit may be applied for. If granted, the LPR may stay outside of the U.S. as long as the reentry permit has not expired.
If you are an LPR planning on leaving the country for a trip right now, you may consider filing a form I-131 reentry permit. Even if you are not thinking you will be gone for a long period of time, here are some reasons why you may want to apply for the permit:
- You cannot apply for a reentry permit from overseas. This means that if you are outside of the United States and are not able to catch a flight back as soon as you had planned, or just want to stay somewhere else for longer, you will be in a difficult situation. Reentry permits can only be applied for by LPRs who are in the United States.
- Reentry permits indicate a desire to return to the U.S. Although not an official form of evidence, an unexpired reentry permit shows the government that you do not want to abandon your residency.
- There are no COVID pandemic exceptions in place for traveling LPRs. You may think because of the extraordinary times we are experiencing that the government has made an exception regarding the length of time that an LPR may be outside of the United States, but that is a wrong assumption. To date there has been no policy exception issued by USCIS to allow LPR holders stuck outside the U.S. because of the pandemic to retain their status if they do not return in a timely manner.
If you are planning on traveling we recommend that you:
- apply for a reentry permit 5 to 6 months in advance of your travel;
- Assume that a biometrics appointment will be necessary unless USCIS notifies you otherwise; and
- Wait until you receive Form G-1145 text or email notice of your application being approved before you travel. This is very important, as there have been reports of USCIS refusing reentry permits where the LPR was in the U.S. when the permit was applied for, but was not in the U.S. when the application was receipted for processing.
While travel is often fun, and sometimes necessary, please remember if you are an LPR that extended periods of travel outside of the U.S. may affect your eligibility to naturalize.
If you have questions about applying for a reentry permit or need help with a change of status, please reach out to us at (757) 422-8472, or send us a message on our website. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys by clicking on this link.
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