How can I lose my Green Card? What Happens to my Green Card if I Leave the U.S.?

Effects of Trips Abroad on Your Legal Permanent Resident Status

Some people mistakenly believe that because they have a green card, they can stay out of the country indefinitely and still retain their permanent resident status. However, that is not the case.

Although legal permanent residents are free to travel outside the United States, trips abroad that are long in duration may affect your permanent resident status, especially overseas trips that are longer than a year. In this case, you may be found to have abandoned your permanent resident status.

Abandonment may also be found in trips abroad that are less than a year if the immigration officer believes that you did not intend to make the United States your permanent residence. In this determination, the immigration officer may consider the following:

  • Temporary nature of the visit
  • U.S. family and community ties
  • U.S. employment
  • Filing of U.S. income taxes as a resident; or
  • Otherwise established your intention to make the U.S. your permanent home. This can include:
    • Maintenance of a U.S. mailing address
    • Existence of U.S. bank accounts
    • Possession of a valid U.S. driver’s license
    • Property ownership
    • Management of a business in the U.S.

In addition, absences from the United States of six months or more disrupts the continuous residency required for naturalization since there is an automatic presumption of abandonment. This can only be overcome by proving that the applicant did not disrupt his or her residence by showing:

  • Applicant did not terminate his or her employment in the United States or obtain employment while abroad
  • Applicant’s immediate family remained in the United States
  • Applicant retained full access to United States abode.

What if I have to stay out of the country for over a year?

If you plan on staying out of the country for longer than a year and would like to keep your permanent resident status, you must file Form I-131 and apply for a reentry permit. This will establish your intention to permanently reside in the United States after a travel of long duration and you will not be found to have abandoned your permanent resident status.

Like green cards, an approved reentry permit does not guarantee entry into the United States – the immigration officer at the border or port of entry will still have to determine whether you are “admissible” or eligible for admission into the country.

For absences of over two years, you must apply for a Returning Resident Visa, Form SB-1 at a U.S. embassy or consulate. You will have to meet the requirements for returning resident status, establish eligibility of an immigrant visa, undergo a medical exam and submit supporting and other documentation requested by the embassy or consulate.

There is an exception to this process for the spouse or child of either a member of the U.S. Armed Forces or civilian employee of the U.S. Government stationed abroad on official orders. Go to the Department of State’s website for more information about the process.

The law also allows government and military personnel, government contractors, institutes of research and certain organizations working abroad for durations of over a year to preserve the continuous residence requirement for naturalization purposes by filing Form N-470.

If you are a green card holder who is planning to travel abroad and will be out of the country for six months or more, it is vital that you speak with an immigration attorney who can assist you in preserving your legal permanent residence.


For more practical information and legal advice contact Scott Legal, P.C. Call 212-223-2964 or email info@legalservicesincorporated.com for a consultation.

Angela Antonia Torregoza, Esq. is an Associate Attorney at Scott Legal, P.C. She can be reached at atorregoza@legalservicesincorporated.com or 646.527.7292 Ext. 140.


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