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Options for Lawful Permanent Residents [Green Card Holders] Stuck Abroad

Allison Lukanich

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed everyone’s lives around the world.  For some, the timing of travel bans and government shuts downs have caught them in the wrong place at the wrong time, without means to return to the United States.

Generally speaking, since Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) reside permanently in the United States, they should not spend too much time outside of the United States in a single trip.  Trips of under 6 months are perfectly fine.  Trips of 6 to 12 months are disfavored without good cause in the eyes of USCIS, and trips of more than 12 months can give rise to an allegation by USCIS or CBP that you have abandoned your permanent residency.  A charge of abandonment can result in the government placing you into deportation proceedings to demonstrate how you have (or haven’t) abandoned your residency.

Travel plans have been disrupted without a doubt for the last few months.  I speak to many individuals each week who were out of the United States when countries and airlines began limiting travel, and now who find themselves unable to return as they have already been out of the country for close to 12 months or some, over.  Each case is distinct, and you should consult with an immigration attorney to discuss your individual case and what might work best for you in terms of returning to the United States as soon and safely as possible.  Here are a few tips to help you in the interim:

  • Documentation is key. Hold on to evidence of previously-booked travel, canceled flights, and your efforts to arrange airfare.  If your country has put a travel ban in place and has not allowed anyone to leave, including evidence such as a press release or newspaper article will help as well.
  • If you are at high risk to developing complications from COVID-19, and your doctor has advised to not to travel, you should collect evidence of this as well.
  • Contact the US Embassy in the country you are temporarily residing. In many countries, the US government is helping to arrange charter flights to assist US citizens and LPRs who are stuck abroad from returning.  Even if the embassy cannot help you return to the US, you can demonstrate to them your willingness to return and take up residency once you are able to travel.

Those who have been outside of the country for more than 12 months can apply for a Returning Resident Visa or SB-1 visa.  Instead of traveling and presenting to Customs and Border Patrol at the airport in the US and asking to be re-admitted, the SB-1 visa asks the US consulate in your home country to make the determination as to whether you’ve abandoned your residency, and to assist you in obtaining the necessary visa to return to the US without incident.  Keep in mind that for now, all of the US consulates around the world are closed due to the pandemic, so until they reopen and you are able to travel this is not an option.  Collecting evidence described above now will assist you in filing, as well as other evidence as to the reason you left the country in the first place and why you did not return before travel restrictions started being put in place.

Keep in mind every case is distinct.  You should consult with an immigration attorney to discuss the particular facts of your case, and if you will be a good candidate for the Returning resident visa.

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