A Green Card holder in the United States is allowed to travel outside the United States and return back with some limitations. A Green Card holder may obtain a re-entry permit if he wishes to travel for an extended period of time, outside the United States. Normally a Green Card holder may travel outside the United States for less than a year with a valid Green Card. A Green Card or a permanent resident card becomes invalid if the holder leaves the United States for a year or more. If the Green Card holder leaves the United States for less than a year and takes residence in another country, then the holder will be considered to have abandoned his permanent resident status in the United States.
By obtaining a re-entry permit, you will be able to establish that you do not want to abandon your permanent resident status. A re-entry permit permits you to enter the United States after traveling outside the United States for a period of 2 years. A returning resident visa is not needed if you have a re-entry permit. A re-entry permit is granted with a validity period of two years. You may also use the re-entry permit to travel outside America, if you cannot or do not wish to get a passport from your home country. Many countries across the globe allow the people to use a re-entry permit. This is similar to a passport, with necessary visas, entry and exit stamps. This permit may be used as a main travel document. But you must make sure that you satisfy the specific requirements of the country you plan to visit.
To get a re-entry permit, you must file Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. This form must be filed well in advance of your planned journey. If you are a lawful permanent resident and if you wish to travel outside the United States for more than a year, its mandatory to apply for a re-entry permit before you leave the United States. If you reside outside the country for more than a year without a re-entry permit, you may be considered to have abandoned your lawful permanent resident status in America. In such a situation, you may be required to appear before an immigration judge to ascertain whether you have abandoned your status or not. You may get in touch with the US consulate about a returning resident visa, if you are in such kind of a situation.
Being a Green Card holder in the United States, you may not be able to obtain a re-entry permit while outside the United States. You can apply for and get a re-entry permit only while you are in the United States. Hence it is recommended to file Form I-131, to get a re-entry permit before 60 days from your planned date of travel. You must apply for a re-entry permit only if you plan to leave the United States for more than a year. You may use your Green Card as your travel document if you are planning to leave the United States for less than a year.
While filing Form I-131 to get a re-entry permit, you need not remain in the United States until the USCIS approves it. You may travel after obtaining your biometrics. You may mention on your Form I-131, that you want the USCIS to send your re-entry permit to the US Consulate or the Embassy abroad, from where you can collect it. You must also note that re-entry permits cannot be extended. If your re-entry permit expires, you must apply for a new one. A new re-entry permit will not be issued to a person who already has a valid permit. If you are applying for a new re-entry permit because you had lost your permit or if it was stolen or destroyed, you must indicate the reason on your application for a new re-entry permit.