Q. I’m a US permanent resident, but I’ve been in Ireland for the past nine months and I’m concerned that I may have a problem getting back into the US. I didn’t intend to stay here so long, but after I arrived home my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I needed to take care of her. Will I have difficulty returning to the US as a permanent resident?
A. There are a number of ways in which a lawful permanent resident (LPR) can lose US immigration status, and leaving the US for extended periods is one of them. Once lost, LPR status can be regained only by beginning the LPR application process all over again.
The rule of thumb for permanent residents is that you should be spending more time in the US than outside of it, and you should not make any trips that last 180 days (approximately 6 months) or longer. When returning from a trip abroad, you must demonstrate that your trip outside the US was temporary and that you have not abandoned your primary residence in the US.
If you remain outside the US for more than six months or engage in activities that indicate that your permanent residence is no longer in the United States, US border patrol may decide that you have voluntarily abandoned your permanent residence. If this happens, you will either be asked to sign a document that formally acknowledges that you abandoned your residence, or you will be placed in removal proceedings and asked to demonstrate to an immigration judge that you have not done so.
Many people believe that they can retain their LPR status simply by making brief trips into the US each year. That is not correct. If your actual permanent residence is not in the US, you have abandoned your US immigration status. US border patrol looks not only at lengthy absences but also at frequent absences in deciding if you have abandoned your status.
The factors that may determine the temporary nature of trips outside the US include the following:
- Are your actual home and place of employment still in the US?
- Did you have a definite temporary reason to travel abroad, such as study or a short-term employment assignment?
- Did you expect to return to the US within a relatively short time?
- Are you returning to the US when expected? If not, what circumstances caused you to spend additional time abroad? Were these circumstances within your control?
- Where are your family ties, property, business affiliations, etc.?
- Have you filed US tax returns as a resident of the US?
In your particular case, it seems you did not intend to abandon your US LPR status. You should obtain evidence of your mother’s diagnosis to illustrate to US immigration inspectors why you remained away for nine months. Evidence could include letters from her doctors and records from the hospital. You also should assemble evidence to address the points outlined above. You should return to the US as an LPR sooner rather than later and certainly within a year of your departure.
An absence from the US of a year or longer very likely would result in the loss of your permanent residence status!
As a final note, if you anticipate a prolonged absence from the US, you should apply for a reentry permit, which preserves your residence for up to 2 years. This application must be filed prior to your departure. (See reentry permit application Form I-131 at uscis.gov.
Rian attorneys are available to provide advice on this and any other immigration matter. Our walk-in immigration clinics have been suspended due to COVID-19, but our attorneys are providing free immigration consultations over the phone and will be happy to speak with you. Please call 617-542-7654 to schedule a phone consultation.
Disclaimer: These articles are published to inform generally, not to advise in individual cases. US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the US Department of State frequently amend regulations and alter processing and filing procedures. For legal advice seek the assistance of Rian immigration legal staff.
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