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I Have a Green Card but Lived Outside the U.S. For Too Long

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If you were previously granted a green card, but you have lived outside the U.S. for a long period of time, you could either apply for SB-1 returning resident visa or you would potentially need to apply for a new green card.

Filing for SB-1, returning resident visa

If you lived in the U.S. for more than one year (and you did not apply for a re-entry permit ), you can apply for an SB-1 visa in order to be able to come back to the U.S. to resume your residency.

You can generally apply for the SB-1 visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad. You will generally have to show the following:

  • You had the status of a lawful permanent resident when you most recently left the U.S.;
  • You departed from the United States with the intention of returning and have not abandoned this intention; and
  • You are returning to the United States from a temporary visit abroad and, if the stay abroad was protracted, this was caused by reasons beyond your control and for which you were not responsible (e.g. medical reasons).

You will have to fill out Form DS-117 and the Consulate will schedule an interview to make a decision on your application (and to also issue you the returning resident visa).

You will have to submit supporting documentation with your application such as proof of your ties with the U.S. (e.g. tax returns, evidence of economic, family or social ties), and proof that your protracted stay outside the U.S. was beyond your control.

Please note that this route is usually only an option if you did not stay in the U.S. for an extended period of time (e.g. 5-10 years), as otherwise you would have more difficult time proving the requirements above.

If you are a green card holder and you are planning to spend 1 year (or more) outside the U.S., it’s crucial that you apply for a re-entry permit before you leave the U.S. to preserve your green card status.

Applying for a new green card

If you are not able to file the SB-1 visa application or if the application was denied, you would then need to re-apply for a new green card with USCIS.

Example 1
You were originally sponsored for a green card by your U.S. citizen spouse. You then moved outside the U.S. and divorced your spouse. You have been living outside the U.S. for around 10 years and you now want to return to the U.S. and live there permanently. You think you could sponsor yourself for an EB-1a green card.

In the example above, if you have been living in the U.S. for 10 years, then you would have a hard time applying for the Sb-1a green card. In this case, the best course of action may be:

  • To first file Form I-407 (Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Status). If you currently live outside the U.S., you can file this form with USCIS. Additionally, you could file this form with CBP at a port of entry (but you would then have to have an ESTA/non-immigrant visa you could enter on). If you want to apply for a green card again, we recommend filing the I-407 form just to make it clear on the record that you abandoned your lawful permanent resident status. Otherwise, your new immigrant petition could be pending for months and USCIS could then make a determination that you never abandoned your lawful permanent resident status and so they cannot approve the new petition.
  • Then file the I-140 petition Eb-1a petition with USCIS. If you live outside the U.S., you would have to do the Consular Processing option.
  • While the I-140 petition may be approved by USCIS in 15 days if you choose to pay the Premium Processing fee, the green card application may be pending at a Consulate for several months.

Example 2
You were married to a U.S. citizen and have been living together outside the U.S. for 10 years. Is there any faster process as the spouse already sponsored you for a green card previously?

Unfortunately, no. Your U.S. citizen spouse would still have to file I-130 petition with USCIS and if you will be applying for a green card at a Consulate abroad, the process would be the same. Again, as in the other example above, we would recommend submitting the I-407 form first to make sure that USCIS has on record that you abandoned your lawful permanent status before granting you a new one. Unfortunately, there is no faster process even if the same person already sponsored you for the green card in the past.

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