Recently, the United States Immigration and Customs Services (USCIS) regulations governing how long green card holders can spend outside the US have become more stringent. Generally, they may not be outside the United States for more than 6 months each year. In the past, green card holders were able to return every 6 months for a brief trip, and not have USCIS fully enforce this rule. Now, this is not the case. Exceeding this 6 month time limit may jeopardize their ability to retain a green card. As a result, many Green Card holders are being placed in removal proceedings and/or having their green cards confiscated, for failure to maintain continuance physical presence inside the United States.
Continuous physical presence can be established by showing that there was no intent to abandon the green card and that the lawful permanent resident maintain their ties in the United States. This can be easily established through proper documentation such as owning a home, renting an apartment, bank accounts, pay taxes, and other forms of proof establishing that although the trip abroad was lengthy, there was always an intent to return. It becomes far more difficult to prove when the green card holder has been absent from the United States for more than a year.
Removal proceedings are a type of hearing held before an immigration Judge. The green card holder will be considered an immigrant, who at the time of admission, was not in possession of valid unexpired document. Again, this is usually based on the green card holder’s absence in the United States.
Where a permanent resident’s absence exceeds the one year mark, and they are placed in removal proceedings, most persons will have the option of requesting Voluntary Departure. Voluntary Departure allows the relinquishing the current application for which the green card is based, and they can go back to their home country. If the request for voluntary departure is granted, then the process for a new green card starts anew. There are no bars as to how soon one can re-apply after they voluntarily depart. If the alien elects for voluntary departure they forfeit their rights to present a defense to removal, such as asylum, withholding of removal, cancellation of removal, a petition through a family member, or any other pending motions. It is important when voluntary departure is granted that they depart on the date specified by the Judge, otherwise they will be barred from re-entering the United Sates for anywhere between 3-10 years.
There are precautions that one can take if they are in fact they are going to be out of the United States for a period longer than generally prescribed, preventing the whole removal process from even occurring. The primary and most effective way to be outside the United States for more than a year is by having a re-entry permit. A re-entry permit can be issued by filling out a travel authorization (I-131 form) and checking the box that applies. This allows a green card holder to be out of the country for up to 2 years without disrupting their continuous physical presence requirement. If this option is available to the applicant, they must also fill out an N-470 which establishes that they are not abandoning their continuous physical presence requirement. It should be noted, that a re-entry permit is different from an advance parole which merely lets you travel.
While the possibility of losing a green card can be a hassle, this circumstance is not uncommon and ability to re-apply still allows a person to reunite with their loved ones. If other circumstances arise, or you have other questions, then you should contact an immigration attorney as soon as possible.