One of the benefits of lawful permanent residence (i.e. a green card) is the ability to leave the country without automatically losing your status, which is typically what would happen if you traveled abroad with a nonimmigrant visa—or without any documentation.
But a green card won’t necessarily let you leave the U.S. for years on end without consequences. If USCIS believes you have abandoned your permanent residence, you might lose your status.
Green Card Abandonment
Green card holders can choose, at any time, to voluntarily abandon their permanent residence by submitting Form I-407 to USCIS or declaring themselves as a nonimmigrant on their U.S. tax returns. However, USCIS may interpret your time spent abroad as evidence that you have abandoned your permanent residence, even if you haven’t declared it in either of the above ways.
If you spend an extended amount of time outside of the U.S., USCIS may consider the following factors to determine whether you have abandoned your permanent residence:
- Why you left the U.S.
- When you plan to return
- Any events that extended your stay
- Whether you have substantial ties to the United States (e.g. a home, a job, family members, financial interests, etc.)
Generally, your trip abroad should have a specific reason and a definitive end, and you should have several compelling factors keeping you from leaving the United States permanently. When you attempt to return to the U.S., the CBP officer will assess the entire situation to ascertain your intent. If they believe you have abandoned your residence, they will typically let you enter the U.S., but you will likely need to appear before a judge in an immigration court.
For the above reasons, it can be difficult to answer the question of how long a person can leave the United States without jeopardizing their green card. Technically, your green card will become invalid if you leave for longer than a year, but USCIS may prevent you from reentering after a shorter trip if they believe you took up residence in another country. As such, legal professionals generally suggest traveling for less than six months just to be safe.
If you believe your trip abroad may last longer than six months, you may consider obtaining a reentry permit. This permit officially states that you do not intend to abandon your permanent residence, and it allows you to leave the U.S. for up to two years. Because you must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for a reentry permit, you will need to take care of this before your trip.
Retain Professional Support to Protect Your Status
Are you planning an extended trip abroad, but you’re concerned about losing your status? At Sintsirmas & Mueller Co. L.P.A., we don’t just help people obtain visas and green cards—we help them protect their status for as long as necessary. We provide comprehensive guidance regarding your rights and options, giving you the information and tools you need to make the best possible decisions for your future.