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Can travel affect my residency status?

If you obtained your green card quickly with little effort, you are one of the rare immigrants to the U.S. It is more likely that you went through a lengthy and frustrating process, waiting months or years before gaining lawful residency status. Whether you intend to seek citizenship in the U.S. or you are here for a specific purpose, the last thing you want to do is jeopardize your green card status.

One of the quickest ways to lose your lawful residency is to break the law. It is important to understand that the standards the government sets for those in the immigration system are much stricter than those for U.S. citizens. However, there is another factor that may endanger your green card status.

Where are you?

You may inadvertently endanger your green card status by moving or traveling. If you change addresses or leave New Jersey, you have 10 days to notify the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services of your new address. While it may seem like a minor oversight, failing to inform the USCIS when you move can be immediate grounds for removal.

When you have a green card, you are allowed to travel outside the country, but the amount of time you are gone can determine whether border agents allow you back into the U.S. Immigration agents may conclude that a green card holder who leaves the U.S. for extended periods has residency in another country. There is no rule specifying how much time you may be abroad without facing this risk, and sometimes it is up to the agent to make a determination.

How can I avoid losing my green card while traveling?

A rule of thumb is to plan to return to the U.S. within a year of leaving. However, even this may not prevent an agent from suspecting you have residency elsewhere and denying you reentry. Some advisors recommend planning to stay out of the country no longer than six months at a time. However, if you must be gone for a year or longer, you can take these precautions:

  • Plan ahead by applying for a reentry permit that allows you to stay abroad for two years.
  • Apply for U.S. citizenship.
  • Apply for a special immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.

This final option is helpful if you find yourself out of the U.S. longer than you expected, for example, if you fall ill or must deal with an emergency.

Any time you face immigration issues, you have the right to legal assistance. An attorney with skill and experience in immigration law can be a valuable advocate.

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