One of the biggest myths about the green card is that once an individual has obtained it they can make unlimited trips outside of the U.S., so long as the individual does not stay outside of the U.S. for a trip lasting longer than 6 months.
Unfortunately, many individuals find out that this is not the case only when confronted by a customs official at the U.S. border. A green card holder can be detained and questioned for hours at a time and ultimately have their green card confiscated. At that point they are either able to agree to the confiscation and enter the U.S. as a visitor, or fight the confiscation and be allowed into the U.S. for a determination of whether they abandoned their U.S. residence in Immigration Court.
This problem often arises for business executives and scientists who have international business and research concerns requiring extensive travel or temporary assignments abroad. It can also be a problem for green card holders who need to care for sick or elderly family members outside the U.S. As globalization and ease of international travel have increased this issue has become common.
The solution for green card holders planning on being outside of the United States for significant periods of time is to apply for a reentry permit. A reentry permit is initially granted for a period of two years and can be renewed for one or two year periods at the discretion of USCIS. There is no limit for the number of renewal reentry permits a green card holder can apply for.
A green card holder applying for a reentry permit must file the application while they are in the United States, but is not required to remain in the United States while the reentry permit is adjudicated. Applicants are also required to be photographed and fingerprinted before the reentry permit can be issued.
A reentry permit does not shield a green card holder from questioning at the border regarding the length of their absence, but it does prevent the length of the absence from being the sole criteria used for deeming that the green card holder has abandoned their U.S. residence.
The reentry permit coupled with evidence of residence within the United States can prevent confiscation of the green card at the border. It is an essential tool that provides peace of mind, for green card holders who must spend significant amounts of time outside the United States.