How to obtain a re-entry permit?

In my Immigration Consultation® column this week I answer the question of a permanent resident of the United States who wishes to obtain a reentry permit that will allow him to stay outside the U.S. for more than one year.

Each case is different and the answers vary depending on the immigration history of each person. Here I provide general answers to your questions. Please consult with an immigration attorney to receive personalized legal advice before beginning any process.

I am a permanent resident of the United States since 2010. My mother lives in Ecuador and is ill. I would like to visit her to take care of her and spend as much time as necessary to help her. I understand that there is a special permit that allows permanent residents to travel outside the U.S. for an extended period of time. Is this true? -Catalina L.

Catalina, I am very sorry to hear that your mother is ill. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may be able to extend a reentry permit that would allow you to stay with your mother for up to two years before returning to the U.S.

Immigration law states that a permanent resident of the U.S. must live permanently in the U.S. If the person decides to travel abroad, his or her trip must be short. Under the law, the duration of each trip must be less than one year. This allows the person to maintain his or her permanent residency and avoid being referred to immigration court for exceeding the time allowed to remain outside the country.

A reentry permit generally authorizes a permanent resident to stay outside the U.S. for up to two years. The document must be applied for at least 60 days prior to departing the U.S. by using the Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. The permanent resident must also provide fingerprints and a photo to complete the process.

Biometrics must be submitted within the U.S. This process cannot be done outside the country. Once USCIS has captured the biometrics of the re-entry permit applicant, the individual may travel abroad to await approval of his or her application.

If USCIS approves the reentry permit, the document may be sent to the applicant's U.S. address, a U.S. embassy or consulate, or a U.S. Department of Homeland Security office abroad designated by the applicant.

The validity of a reentry permit cannot be extended. However, the USCIS allows the permanent resident to apply for a new reentry permit if he/she meets the proper requirements.

Remaining outside the U.S. for a year or more generally stops the accrual of continuous U.S. residency, which is necessary for a permanent resident to apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization.

There are exceptions to this requirement for individuals who have obtained approval from the Form N-470, Application to Retain Residence for Naturalization PurposesThe U.S. government is a U.S. citizen, and for spouses of U.S. citizens who are working abroad for the U.S. government, a U.S. research institution, or a U.S. firm engaged in the development of foreign trade with the United States.

Please consult with an immigration attorney for personalized legal advice before beginning any proceedings.

For more information and immigration tips, read my blog

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Nelson A. Castillo, Esq. is an immigration attorney and author of La Tarjeta Verde: Cómo Obtener la Residencia Permanente en los Estados Unidos (Green Card: How to Obtain Permanent Residence in the United States). He is a past President of the Hispanic National Bar Association and current President of the Los Angeles Westlake South Neighborhood Council. To contact Mr. Castillo's office, please call (213) 537-VISA (8472).