Green Cards or Permanent Resident Cards allow individuals to live and work permanently in the United States but they don’t come without limitations. One of the biggest limitations on the Green Card is the amount of time you can spend outside of the U.S. without losing your “resident” status.
As a U.S. Green Card holder, you have the right to travel abroad and to return, but re-entry is not a guarantee. Each time you re-enter the country you will need to present your foreign passport and U.S. Green Card to Customs officials. You are essentially applying for admission to the U.S. every time you try to re-enter the country, even though you have a Green Card and are considered a lawful permanent resident.
Customs officials have the discretionary ability to allow or deny your re-entry based on your actions and travel history. For example, if you have violated the terms of your visa, committed a crime since the last time you entered the U.S., or spent more time abroad than you should have, re-entry may be denied. It is this last criterion – time spent abroad – that causes the most confusion among Green Card holders.
Time Spent Abroad and Its Impact On Re-Entry
One of the requirements of holding a Green Card is to maintain residency in the United States. While travel is acceptable, excessive travel or excessive time abroad can be viewed as a break in the continuity of your residency which may be enough for a Customs official to deny you re-entry.
The only restriction specified in the law regarding Green Cards and the time limitations of being abroad is that a Green Card holder will lose their Green Card if they remain outside the U.S. continuously for a year and a day without having made prior arrangements, such as applying for a Reentry Permit (Form I-131) prior to departing. Remaining outside the U.S. for this long is considered an abandonment of residency and is grounds for revocation of the Green Card.
There are other instances in which it may be determined, at the Customs official’s discretion, that you have abandoned your residency:
- A trip abroad that lasts longer than 6 months, or
- Overly frequent trips abroad that, when taken together, result in you being out of the country for more than 6 months.
Since Green Cards and passports are tracked digitally, it is very easy for Customs officials to see where you have traveled, how frequently, and for how long. At The Law Offices of Gail Seeram, Immigration Law Firm, we advise our clients to remain in the United States for 9-10 months of the year for the best protection against this sort of Green Card revocation.