You've gone through the long, often-frustrating process of getting a green card. Perhaps you plan to become a U.S. citizen one day. Maybe you just want to be able to live and work in this country for the foreseeable future. Either way, your green card status is valuable, and you don't want to do anything to risk losing it.
You know that breaking the law could cost you your green card. However, you also risk losing it if you leave the country for an extended period. Many people believe that this means a year or more. Indeed, if you are outside of the U.S. for over a year, getting back in can be a challenge.
However, the length of allowed absence isn't defined. Generally, if you aren't gone for more than six months, you won't have a problem returning to the U.S. However, border officials want to make sure that green card holders aren't actually living in another country and just returning to the U.S. periodically to maintain their immigration status here.
Be prepared to have to convince border officials that you are still a permanent U.S. resident. If you've applied for U.S. citizenship, that task should be easier because you've demonstrated your intention to make the U.S. your home. However, keep in mind that there's usually a waiting period of five years after receipt of a green card before you can begin the citizenship application process. If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, it's three years.
If you need to be outside the U.S. for over a year, whether for work or personal reasons, you can apply for a reentry permit from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before you go. This allows you to reenter the U.S. within two years after you left.
What if you didn't obtain a reentry permit because you thought you'd be back in a few months, but illness or some other unforeseeable circumstances kept you away? You'll need to go to a U.S. consulate in whatever country you're in, provide evidence that you were unable to return within a year and seek a special immigrant visa to return and keep your status.
If you or a loved one with a green card has concerns about traveling outside of the U.S. for an extended period, a Maryland attorney with experience dealing with the USCIS can provide valuable advice and assistance.