Many residents in the United States who are not citizens, but hold lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, are finding difficult situations after long periods of travel out of the country during the pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions on travel are forcing some to leave the country for longer periods of time than initially planned.
It is important to understand both sides of this equation: there are options BEFORE you leave to prevent yourself from losing your status, and options to retain or regain your status AFTER you leave.
If your travel outside of the US lasts for fewer than 180 days then you will generally have no challenges to your LPR status. If your travel extends beyond 180 days (especially in cases beyond one full year of travel), then you will need to prepare to either defend or reapply for status. This can happen even if you’ve had a long-established residency, family, and even community connections in the US.
Applying for a re-entry permit can be the key to protecting your status. This is something you are able to do with USCIS prior to leaving the country. You should consider doing this several months before you depart because you will need to submit to biometric screenings which can take months to schedule and complete. Couple this with pandemic delays and the fact that federal agencies have not announced pandemic exemptions and you could find yourself waiting far longer than anticipated.
If you did not apply for a re-entry permit prior to traveling (or stayed longer than your permit allows), you still have options when you are ready and able to come home. You will need to file an SB-1 Returning Resident and provide evidence you did not abandon your intentions to return to the US. This means you should be gathering evidence throughout your time outside of the country (such as receipts for canceled air travel, information about lockdowns or even weather situations preventing travel, and other supporting documentation). This is another process that can take several months to complete, so it is important to make sure you have the resources necessary to stay outside of the US for even longer than initially anticipated.
Each of these processes can take time and be a little confusing, but it is imperative that you get it all correct the first time around to prevent losing your LPR status. Let us work to protect your status. Contact Valvo & Associates today and let us walk you through the process.