By Michael Phulwani, Esq. and Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.
Once an individual is granted permanent residence they are allowed to travel in and out of the US without any problem. Permanent residents who wish to reenter the US need to present their green card and passport from their country of citizenship for readmission as long as the duration of the trip is less than 6 months. If the trip is longer than 6 months but shorter than 1 year, the person is considered to be seeking readmission and may be asked questions regarding the trip to see whether or not they have abandoned their residence while abroad. If the duration of the trip is more than one year, and the applicant knew before departing that they would be out of the United States for more than one year, then they may consider applying for a Re-entry permit which will allow them to stay out for up to two years. However, there are some people, who get caught outside the US and just cannot return before the 1 year is completed.
A permanent resident of the US remained outside of the US for more than one year without obtaining a reentry permit can either go through the entire green card process all over again or they may apply for a returning resident visa also known as a SB-1 visa. With an SB-1 Visa, issued by a consular post, the individual will be able to retain their residence and return to the United States as a Permanent Residence without interruption. To apply for SB-1 visa a returning resident must show proof of the resident’s continued unbroken ties to the US and that the trip was extended as a result of events beyond their control. Some examples for reasons why an extended stay abroad was necessary are: illness, death, pregnancy, or permission was not granted to leave the foreign country.
A permanent resident who wants to enter the US after staying abroad for an extended period of time can be eligible for a SB-1 visa if:
• At the time of departure from the US the individual was a lawful permanent resident;
• When leaving the US, the individual did not leave with the intention of not coming back;
• When an individual returns to the US after an extended stay abroad, the extended stay was due to circumstances beyond their control and for which they are not responsible for; and
• The individual is eligible for the SB-1 visa in all other aspects.
There are a few individuals who do not need the SB-1 visa even if they have been outside of the U.S for more than two years. They are spouses and children of a member of the US Armed Forces or civilian employees of the US government stationed abroad. If an individual falls within those two categories, then they may use their Permanent Resident Card to enter the US even if it expired.
The processing time for the SB-1 visa is between three and six months. If an individual’s application for the SB-1 visa is denied, then they will not be allowed to enter the US again without another valid visa.