Many US green cardholders, who are still stuck in India because of adverse circumstances triggered by the pandemic, need to reclaim their legal permanent residence in the United States. A majority of the green cardholders stuck in India are senior citizens and middle-aged professionals whose return travel to the US has been disrupted due to their contraction of the virus, serious illness of an immediate family member, death-like emergency in the family, or their deep-seated fears of traveling amid the pandemic.
Whatever the reason is, you may find it difficult to re-enter the country or face denial of re-entry in the worst case after a certain period of absence from the US.
Your lengthy absence from the US will subject you to additional questions during an examination of your LPR status by the US border officials. Usually, your green card must be valid and that you have not relinquished legal permanent residence (LPR) must be established for reentry. In some cases, lengthy absence causes automatic loss of the LPR status if the green cardholder does not apply to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, seeking a reentry permit prior to his/her departure from the country.
What is USA’s green card re-entry permit?
The United States’ re-entry permit for green cardholders is a travel document, with the help of which you can maintain your LPR status while traveling abroad for up to 2 years.
If green cardholders have been absent from the USA for any length of period between 180 days and one year, the onus of proving that they still retain the LPR status falls on them. It is because there is a ‘rebuttable presumption’ that a green cardholder staying outside the country for more than 180 days may have relinquished permanent residence. They are also needed to prove why they were not able to return to the US within 180 days of departure. Valid house rent receipts, property tax receipts, back account record, US tax returns, driver’s licence, or any proof of employment in the US can help them prove that the US is still their country of residence.
Recently, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) strongly recommended that green cardholders should travel back as soon as possible if their absence has exceeded 180 days.
Even if an official of the US Customs and Border Protection assumes that you have renounced your LPR status, you won’t be sent off immediately. Rather, you will be permitted reentry with a Notice to Appear (NTA, a notice for initiation of deportation proceedings). It requires you to appear in immigration court where you can furnish proofs validating your LPR status.
Seeking reentry to the US after more than 180 days of physical absence is equal to seeking admission – which is granted to an applicant if he/she has no likelihood of becoming a security threat or public charge. On return to the US after more than 180 days and less than one year of absence, you are likely to face inadmissibility charges if you have stayed outside the US due to your health issues, medical treatment, or unemployment.
The re-entry rules are different for US green cardholders with respect to their absence as long as over a year. Absence of more than one year renders your green card invalid resulting in automatic loss of your legal permanent residence status. It adds to the above-mentioned problems for the returning green cardholders. However, providing evidence ascertaining that you were on a temporary visit to India or some other country and that you got stuck amid unprecedented circumstances, such as the pandemic, is a solution to this.
“Those outside for more than a year should first try to apply for returning resident or SB-1 Visa,” the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA) recommends.
If you are not able to obtain a Returning Resident or SB-1 Visa and if your green card validity has not expired, you can board a flight in India and explain/prove the unprecedented reasons for your prolonged stay outside on arrival at the port of entry in the US, according to leading Indian American immigration lawyers. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), at a port of entry, is likely to make ‘secondary inspection’ to examine the nature of your absence from the US and ask you to submit Form I-193, a paid application for waiver of passport and/or visa.
In March 2021, CBP sent a notice to the airlines, requiring them to board green cardholders as long as their LPR status is valid. What to do if you are denied boarding on account of your long absence from the USA, despite having a valid green card? You can request the airline to contact CBP’s Regional Carrier Liaison Group (RCLG) for a check.