Re-Entry Permits for Green Card Holders: A Full Guide

If you have a U.S. green card and plan a trip abroad that will last more than six months, you must understand the requirements for maintaining your immigration status upon your return. Obtaining a re-entry permit is not just a recommendation; preserving your permanent resident status and ensuring a hassle-free re-entry to the United States is vital.

This guide will provide essential information regarding re-entry permits for lawful permanent residents. You will learn what a re-entry permit is, who is eligible to apply, the application process, processing times, associated fees, and other pertinent travel considerations.

So, let’s get started, shall we?

The Issue of Green Card Holders and Their Travels Abroad

As a lawful permanent resident, you’re generally free to travel internationally. However, the length of your stay abroad can significantly impact your re-entry into the U.S.

Trips under six months: If you’re away for six months or less, your return to the U.S. should be straightforward. You won’t be treated as someone seeking admission; there’s no need to prove you’ve maintained your residency status. Your Green Card is all you need to re-enter.

Trips between six months and a year: When your trip extends beyond six months but remains under a year, you might face additional scrutiny at the border. Be prepared to demonstrate that you’ve upheld your permanent resident status. Your Green Card is still valid for re-entry.

Trips exceeding a year: If your travels keep you outside the U.S. for a year or more, the situation changes significantly. Upon your return, you’ll be required to prove you’ve maintained your residency status, and your Green Card alone won’t be sufficient for re-entry. You’ll need a valid re-entry permit or a returning resident visa to enter the country.

IMPORTANT! Various circumstances might lead you to embark on extended journeys outside the United States. You might be pursuing studies abroad with an international student visa, fulfilling military duties as an LPR on foreign assignments, providing care for a family member overseas, or frequently traveling for work-related purposes. Regardless of travel reasons, you must have the proper documentation to re-enter the U.S.!

What Is a Re-entry Permit for Permanent Residents?

As we said, things change a bit if your travel plans involve being outside the U.S. for a year or more. Your Green Card alone won’t be enough to guarantee a stressless return. Instead, you’ll need this particular travel document, the re-entry permit issued by USCIS.

Think of it as your backup Green Card for long trips. It’s a passport-like document that proves you haven’t abandoned your U.S. residency while you were away. Without it, immigration officials might question your intentions, potentially delaying your re-entry or jeopardizing your permanent resident status.

Obtaining a re-entry permit before your extended travels establishes a clear legal presumption that you plan to return to the U.S. and maintain your residency. This can save you from a lot of pain and ensure a hassle-free homecoming.

The Purpose of a Green Card Re-Entry Permit

The primary purpose of a re-entry permit is to protect your permanent resident status while you’re away. It proves to U.S. authorities, such as Customs and Border Protection, that you haven’t abandoned your U.S. residence and intend to return. This is crucial because prolonged absences can jeopardize your green card status, especially if they exceed a year.

A re-entry permit can sometimes substitute for a passport from your home country. Many countries accept it as a valid travel document, allowing you to obtain visas and entry/exit stamps directly on the permit.

It’s important to note that while a re-entry permit is not mandatory for every international trip, it’s strongly recommended for LPRs planning extended travel to safeguard their immigration status and ensure their return to the United States.

IMPORTANT! While a re-entry permit strengthens your case for maintaining lawful permanent resident status after extended travel, it’s not a guarantee. It establishes a legal presumption that you didn’t intend to abandon your U.S. residence, but the government can challenge this presumption with “clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence” to the contrary. Therefore, you must understand a re-entry permit is valuable, but maintaining your status ultimately depends on adhering to all residency requirements and demonstrating your ongoing ties to the U.S.

Who Needs a Re-entry Permit?

Determining whether you need a re-entry permit boils down to the duration of your planned trip abroad and your current immigration status.

If you’re a green card holder and anticipate spending more than a year but less than two years outside the U.S., applying for a re-entry permit is highly recommended. This will help you maintain your permanent resident status and avoid potential issues upon your return.

Keep in mind that re-entry permits are exclusively for green card holders. If you’ve applied for a green card but haven’t yet received it, you’ll need to apply for Advance Parole instead, even for short trips abroad.

Several scenarios often call for a re-entry permit:

  1. Extended stays abroad: If you plan to be outside the U.S. for a year or more, a re-entry permit can streamline your return and eliminate the need for a returning resident visa.
  2. Frequent international travel: Even if your trips are shorter than a year, spending significant time abroad could raise questions upon re-entry. A re-entry permit provides a preemptive safeguard, assuring officials of your intention to maintain U.S. residency.
  3. Lack of home country passport: If you cannot obtain a passport from your home country, a re-entry permit works as a travel document, allowing you to travel internationally.

Who Is Eligible for a Re-Entry Permit?

To qualify for a re-entry permit, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  1. Lawful permanent residency: You must hold lawful permanent resident status (indicated by a green card) or conditional permanent resident status in America.
  2. Temporary departure: Your intended departure from the U.S. must be temporary, meaning you plan to return and maintain your U.S. residence.
  3. Form I-131 filing: You must file Form I-131, the Application for Travel Document, while physically present in the United States. This form and all necessary supporting documentation must be submitted before you leave the country.
  4. Biometrics collection: As part of the application process, you must complete a biometrics collection, which involves providing your digital fingerprints and photographs at a designated U.S. location. This step is typically done after filing Form I-131 and before your departure.

This way, you can establish your eligibility for a re-entry permit and ensure a stress-free arrival to the United States after your travels abroad.

How to File for a Re-entry Permit via Form I-131

To initiate the re-entry permit application process, you must complete and submit Form I-131, the travel document application. This form requires you to provide details about your upcoming trip, including its duration, purpose, and travel history since becoming a green card holder. Additionally, you’ll be asked to confirm your compliance with U.S. tax filing obligations.

Filing Form I-131 while physically present in the United States is crucial. USCIS suggests filing at least 60 days before your intended departure date. This allows ample time to schedule a biometrics appointment at a nearby USCIS office. Failure to attend this appointment due to being out of the country could result in your application being rejected.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait in the U.S. until your re-entry permit is approved. You can travel abroad once you’ve submitted Form I-131 and completed your biometrics. You can even request on the form to have your re-entry permit sent to a U.S. consulate or embassy in your destination country for convenient pickup.

IMPORTANT! When completing Form I-131, check the edition date at the bottom of each page. As of April 1, 2024, the current edition date is 04/01/24. Using the correct edition ensures your application avoids unnecessary delays.

Initial Evidence and Documents Needed to File for a Re-entry Permit with the I-131 Form

Gathering and submitting all required documentation is essential to successfully apply for a re-entry permit. Failure to do so leads to delays or even the denial of your application. To ensure you have everything you need, consult the table below, which outlines the required documents and provides a clear explanation.

Government-issued photo id
This document, such as a driver's license or passport, confirms your identity and includes your photo, name, and date of birth.
Evidence of Lawful Permanent Residency
  • Permanent Resident Card (front and back)
  • Passport biographic & immigrant visa pages
  • Form I-797 Approval Notice for Green Card Replacement
  • Temporary Evidence of LPR status.
Certified English translations (if applicable)
Any documents not originally in English must be accompanied by certified English translations. A qualified translator must do them. They also must bear the translator's official seal or stamp.

Where to File Form I-131 for a Green Card Re-entry Permit

Confirming the correct filing address is crucial before mailing your re-entry permit application. USCIS has specific locations for processing Form I-131 based on your state of residence. To ensure your application is sent to the right place and avoid processing delays, we strongly recommend checking the official USCIS resource for I-131 filing addresses

To get a notification that USCIS has received and accepted your application at a USCIS lockbox, complete and attach Form G-1145 to the front of your application package. USCIS will email or text updates regarding your travel document application if you choose this.

How Much Does a Re-entry Permit Cost?

The current cost for filing Form I-131 for re-entry permits is $630. Fees may vary depending on the category you are filing. Don’t forget the extra expenses, like document copies, translations, etc.

How to Track the Status of Your Re-entry Permit Application

You can track the progress of your re-entry permit application through the USCIS online case status checker. To do so, you’ll need the receipt number provided on the notice you received after submitting Form I-131.

If you’ve opted to pick up your re-entry permit at a U.S. embassy or consulate, you can contact them to ask about its arrival. Some diplomatic missions even offer online tools for checking the status of your permit.

Re-entry Permits' Processing Times and Timeline

The Nebraska Service Center typically processes 80% of re-entry permit applications (Form I-131) in about 16 months. This means most applicants can expect a decision within that timeframe.

For How Long Is Your Re-entry Permit Valid?

How long your re-entry permit remains valid depends on your circumstances.

A re-entry permit is normally valid for two years from its date. This means you can use it for multiple trips in and out of the U.S. during that timeframe.

However, there are two situations where your re-entry permit might have a shorter validity period:

Conditional Green Card Holders

Suppose you have a conditional green card that expires in less than two years from receiving your re-entry permit. In that case, the permit will only be valid until your conditional residency expires. You can still obtain a re-entry permit, but it won’t last two years. If you must travel again after your conditional residency expires, apply for a new re-entry permit.

Extensive Time Spent Outside the U.S.

If, since becoming a permanent resident or within the past five years (whichever is shorter), you’ve spent more than four years outside the U.S., your re-entry permit will only be valid for one year. This rule has limited exceptions, such as for U.S. government employees or elite athletes.

Can You Renew Your Re-entry Permit?

Re-entry permits cannot be renewed or extended. When your re-entry permit expires, you must return to the U.S. and apply for a new one. This involves submitting a new application (Form I-131) and attending another biometrics appointment. Your previous re-entry permit must be surrendered during this process.

There’s no limit on how often you can apply for a re-entry permit. However, the new permit will only be valid for one year if you’ve spent over four years out of the past five years outside the U.S. since obtaining your green card. This limitation doesn’t apply to U.S. government employees, elite athletes, or certain other cases.

Remember, if you’re a permanent resident, your re-entry permit cannot be valid longer than your remaining conditional green card period. Spending significant time abroad could also affect your ability to transition to a full green card, especially if you live separately from your sponsoring spouse or relative.

Re-Entering the U.S. with a Re-Entry Permit: What to Expect

When returning to the U.S. after an extended stay abroad, ensure you have your valid re-entry permit, Green Card, and passport readily available. Upon arrival, a CBP officer will inspect these documents and inquire about your travels. As long as everything is in order, they will grant you re-entry.

The re-entry permit proves to the CBP officer that your absence doesn’t imply abandonment of your U.S. residence. However, it doesn’t guarantee automatic entry. If the officer finds other reasons to suspect you’ve abandoned your U.S. residency, you may be subject to further questioning.

Always travel with the following documents:

  • Valid re-entry permit
  • Passport
  • Green Card

While a re-entry permit is highly recommended for extended trips, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t provide absolute protection against potential challenges at the border. Always be prepared to answer questions and deliver additional evidence of your ties to the U.S. if necessary.

Re-entry Permit Frequently Asked Questions and Their Answers

To address common inquiries and equip you with the knowledge needed for a painless re-entry process, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions and their corresponding answers below. Take a moment to explore them, and you’ll find valuable insights to help you understand and successfully obtain a re-entry permit.

What happens if I don't apply for a re-entry permit before traveling outside the U.S. for a year or more?

Not having a re-entry permit for extended trips (one year or longer) can jeopardize your permanent resident status. You might be seen as having abandoned your U.S. residency and could face legal proceedings to determine your status. In such cases, contacting the U.S. consulate for a returning resident visa may be necessary.

No, you must be physically present in the United States to file Form I-131 for a re-entry permit.

While filing in the U.S. is recommended, you don’t have to stay for approval as long as your biometrics (photo, fingerprints) have been taken. You can request that your permit be sent to a U.S. embassy, consulate, or DHS office abroad for pickup.

No, you must provide your biometrics at an Application Support Center (ASC) within the United States. Leaving before doing so could lead to your application’s denial.

If your trip is less than a year, your Green Card (Form I-551) is sufficient for re-entry.

If your current permit is valid, you must send it along with your new application. Expired permits don’t need to be submitted.

There’s no official limit, but if you’ve been outside the U.S. for over four of the past five years since getting your green card, the new permit will only be valid for one year, with some exceptions.

Are You Ready to Get Your Green Card Re-entry Permit?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure about any aspect of the re-entry permit submission process, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Our experienced consultants at ImmigrationDirect are here to guide you through every step, from preparing your I-131 application to ensuring a hassle-free re-entry in America as a Green Card holder.

Our team will offer expert advice and personalized assistance if you have questions about re-entry permits or I-131 form eligibility, documentation, filing procedures, or any other concerns about your travels abroad. Don’t hesitate to contact us today for a consultation. Let us help you secure your travel plans and protect your immigration status!

Scroll to Top
immigration direct logo