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I just landed in the US as a permanent resident but I have not received my green card yet. Can I travel outside the US with my visa stamp? What is an I-551 Stamp?

visa stamp in passport

Approval of a petition to immigrate to the US, whether it is employment or family based, is only the first step. After the approval, an applicant living outside the US will apply through their home country consulate to obtain an immigrant visa (IV) on their passport, which will finally allow them to travel to the US and make their first landing as a permanent resident.

When the applicant arrives in the US with an immigrant visa and is admitted at the border, from that day of landing they obtain the status of permanent resident. This is true even if they have not yet received their green card in the mail. Green cards are mailed out by USCIS to the individual’s US address after they arrive, and are not immediately available at the time of landing. It is important to remember that an individual must pay the “immigrant fee” before USCIS produces and mails their green card.

What is an I-551 Stamp?

Generally, “Form I-551” refers to the “Green Card” itself – a permanent resident card. While the individual is waiting for their green card to arrive in the mail, they may use a stamp in their passport as temporary evidence of their permanent resident status, which is called an “I-551 Stamp.” When a new permanent resident first lands in the U.S., they are given a I-551 Stamp that is valid for 1 year starting from the date of admission.

The I-551 Stamp takes the form of an ink stamp placed on your passport with notations by hand specifying the date of issuance and the date of validity, or a printed notation as part of your immigrant visa on a machine readable passport. The stamp would include the message, “upon endorsement serves as temporary I-551 evidencing permanent residence for 1 year.” See here for examples of what the I-551 Stamp looks like.

Note that permanent residents who apply to renew their green card from within the U.S. can also apply for a temporary I-551 Stamp to prove their permanent resident status while their prior green card has expired and their new green card has not yet been issued.

Can you travel in and out of the US with an I-551 Stamp?

Yes, the I-551 Stamp serves as a substitute to the green card while it is pending, and during the validity date of the I-551 Stamp, it can serve as evidence of your permanent resident status and can be used to re-enter the U.S. after a trip abroad.

What if my green card or I-551 has expired while I was temporarily traveling abroad?

It is a very difficult situation to be caught outside the United States with an expired green card or an expired I-551. Most airlines will not allow an individual to board the plane if they cannot show a valid (and unexpired) evidence of their legal status as a permanent resident.

Customs and Border Protections (CBP) has discretion, however, to admit a permanent resident even if they fail to present unexpired documents that prove such status. There is a possibility that an individual may be able to convince a CBP (Customs and Border Protections) officer at a port of entry at the U.S.-Canada border or U.S.-Mexico border, for example, that good cause existed for the expiry of such documents and they had maintained strong ties to the United States and have not abandoned their permanent residency in the U.S. If granted, the individual will be permitted to enter and resume their permanent resident status in the U.S.

There is also the option of applying for a returning resident visa (SB-1) from a U.S. consulate abroad. This will provide you with a new and valid visa to allow you to fly back to the U.S. See here for more details about the SB-1.

Related posts:

Can I keep my US Green Card holder status even while living in another country for more than 1 year?

How to Renew My Green Card:

Automatic Extension of Green Card Renewal:

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