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If you are a green card holder, then you need to know how to protect your green card, if you’re going to travel outside the United States.

Why Should You Protect Your Green Card?

To some aspiring Americans, becoming a lawful permanent resident(LPR) is their ultimate goal. Of course, acquiring a green card is a job well done, but I propose: This should only be your starting point.

You should know that there is a huge gap between a LPR and a citizen. The difference is wide, but simply put, you won’t have access to what US citizens enjoy exclusively. Your permanent resident status can be lost for several reasons, one of which is spending too much time abroad.

Imagine finally becoming an LPR after the long tiring process, only to have your status revoked: Not for committing a crime; not for falsifying documents – but for staying abroad for too long. It may be harsh, but it’ll happen if you do not take the necessary precautions to protect your green card prior to your travel.

How To Protect Your Green Card

If you’re going to travel outside the U.S., and you know you’ll be spending 6 months or more out of every 12 months, you should protect your green card with one of the two options: Get a Re-entry Permit or Naturalize

Re-entry Permit

A re-entry permit is a simple travel document that USCIS issues to LPRs to allow them to protect their green card even after spending a long time abroad.

If you intend to stay outside the U.S. for more than 1 year and keep your residency status, then you need a re-entry permit. It serves as evidence that you do not intend to abandon your U.S. residence.

However, we recommend applying for a re-entry permit if you intend to (or if it’s possible) that you will spend more than 6 months outside the US. This is because LPRs who return to the U.S. after a 6 month absence are placed in a different legal category than those returning after less than 6 months. That means you can be asked more questions. Your travel history will be scrutinized, and ties to the United States reviewed. And one question you will be asked is, “Did you apply for a re-entry permit?” You want to be able to say yes, you did. Better to have it and not need it than not have it and need it!

That being said, you do not need a re-entry permit for every travel outside the U.S.:

  • If you know you won’t be spending up to 6 months outside the United States, you don’t need a re-entry permit.
  • A re-entry permit won’t help if you’re spending more than 2 years abroad. What you need for trips longer than 2 years is an SB-1 visa (returning resident visa)

Applying For A Re-entry Permit

Here is everything you need to know about applying for a re-entry permit:

  • To apply for a re-entry permit, you’ll need to use Form I-131, Application For Travel Document.
  • You must file Form I-131 at least 60 days prior to your travel.
  • You must be present in the U.S. when you’re applying for a re-entry permit (No, there are no exceptions to this rule.)
  • If you do not have a green card (or a conditional green card), you cannot apply.  Note: If you’ve applied for a green card but have not yet received it, the Form I-131 cannot be used for a re-entry permit. You may, however, use it for advance parole.
  • If you are between the ages of 14-79 years, you’ll need to submit your biometrics at a biometrics services appointment. You must do this in the U.S.
  • Once your biometrics have been submitted, you are free to travel, even before receiving the re-entry permit
  • A re-entry permit is only valid for 2 years. Once it expires, you’ll have to file another.
  • Do not forget the filing fee and biometric fee! The fees can be submitted together on one check or money order, but be sure the math is correct!

Getting a re-entry permit does not make you completely immune to suspicions of abandoning your U.S. residence. If Customs and Border Protection(CBP) officials believe that you planned to abandon your U.S. residence, further investigation may be carried out. You can easily avoid this.

By keeping your connections (like tax filings, family ties, U.S. employer, etc.) to the U.S., you will be able to avoid further questioning from the CBP officials. When you tender your re-entry permit and other necessary evidence at the entry point, you will undoubtedly be admitted back into the United States.


The best option, in the long run, is to accrue time to naturalize. Once you’re eligible, you should consider filing for Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization).

Asides being a full-fledged U.S. citizen, you get a permanent break from travel restrictions. You’ll be able to go wherever you want, whenever you want, for as long as you want.

Travel restrictions aside, you also get to save money by naturalizing. It costs $540 every 10 years to renew a green card. In contrast, you pay your N-400 fee of $725 only once. (These fees will  increase on Oct 2, 2020 – stay tuned to our firm for updates)

You also get the right to vote, sponsor more family members, and usually you can keep your other country’s passport. The United States will only recognize you as a citizen, but will not force you to cancel your other passports. However, some countries (such as Japan, Germany, and India) will revoke your citizenship once you acquire citizenship in the U.S. So be sure to consult with a lawyer in your home country if you want to ensure the ability to retain your home country’s citizenship.

So, if you want to travel without suffering the backlash, you should keep the following in mind:

  1. Make sure you get a re-entry permit if you’re spending less than 2 years, but more than 1 year abroad.
  2. Ensure you keep your connections with the United States. Do not under any circumstances, file your taxes as a nonresident (Form 1040NR). However, you may, if you qualify, take the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) on IRS Form 2555.
  3. If you’re spending more than 2 years, then get an SB-1 Visa
  4. Take your time to naturalize.

Prosper Without Restrictions!

You have the right to pursue happiness – happiness in the family, business, friendship, etc. All of it is happiness and prosperity.

But what do you do if your ties are far away? The ideal option is to spend time with them when you have time. But doing this could put you at a loss if you do not take precautions.

Unsure of what precautions to take? Do you know which ones to take, but don’t know how?

Have you hit a wall? Then contact The HMA Law Firm.

Through guidance, communication, and intensive attention, we will help you hang on tight to the life you’ve built in the United States. Reach out to us by jumping on a call, or filling our contact form! So help us help you.

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