Immigration Lawyer in Houston: Travel Issues for Permanent Residents.
Here’s a surprising-but-true fact about Green Cards and U.S. immigration: Having a Green Card does not mean you will be allowed to board a plane to return to the U.S., and if you are allowed to board a plane to return to the U.S., the Green Card does not stop you from being detained or questioned when you return to the United States after international travel.
If you are a Permanent Resident, we strongly encourage you to download a free copy of our guide, Know Before You Go. In the guide, we discuss some of the problems Permanent Residents may have when traveling.
A permanent resident is allowed to travel in and out of the United States, but a Permanent Resident (LPR) isn’t automatically allowed into the United States upon each return from another country. LPRs may be questioned extensively, detained, or even placed in deportation proceedings after returning from overseas travel. It’s heartbreaking to see a permanent resident go through problems resulting from travel. These problems can often be avoided if you take the time to get good advice before you travel.
If you’re an LPR, you need to be aware that certain events or changes in your circumstances can subject you to scrutiny when you return to the United States.
Events that Can Trigger Scrutiny
If you’re an LPR, you will not necessarily be allowed back into the U.S. without question. U.S. Immigration Law specifically states that a permanent resident is “seeking admission” (in other words, applying to be allowed into the United States as visa holders and other travelers are) when returning from travel outside the country if any of the following events have happened:
- You have been out of the U.S. for a continuous period of 180 days (for example, you go overseas to visit family for a few weeks, but one of your relatives becomes ill and you end up staying over 180 days to help care for your relative)
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determines you have engaged in illegal activity while outside the United States
- You were in deportation proceedings when he/she left the U.S.
- You have committed certain crimes (even misdemeanor level crimes) after you became a resident and are now returning to the United States after international travel. This is common, and unfortunately, even minor crimes for which a sentence or probation is served can cause an LPR to be placed in deportation proceedings.
- CBP believes you have abandoned residence in the United States. (This may become an issue if you frequent travel out of the United States for long periods and return only for short periods, if you have married and/or given birth to children overseas and not made attempts to obtain status in the United States for them, or if you have become employed overseas, but other factors can also be considered. If CBP believes you have abandoned your residence, you may be stopped when returning to the United States, questioned, and possibly placed in deportation proceedings)
- You attempt to physically enter the U.S. without being inspected by Customs and Border Protection. (For example, driving across the US-Canada border at an unmanned location that does not have a U.S. CBP checkpoint)
Any of these means you will be considered to be “seeking admission” to the United States when reentering after international travel. If you are an LPR who is “seeking admission” to the United States, CBP will look more deeply into your specific situation. You will not be considered an returning resident allowed to reenter the United States by virtue of your permanent resident status. If you have any of the issues mentioned above or there are questions or issues with how you obtained your residence, one of a few things can happen: at best, it might mean detention at the airport for a few hours while you wait or are questioned extensively. If the issue cannot be resolved at the airport, you might be asked to go to an appointment at a CBP Office and asked to bring additional evidence or documentation, and you will likely be questioned again about the issue. At worst, you can be placed in deportation proceedings. Yes, even though you have a green card, you can potentially be deported.
Note that CBP may question an LPR for other reasons besides those mentioned above, such as an investigation into the basis of your residence. For example, if you obtained your residence based on employment, and the Department of Homeland Security has begun an investigation into your company to determine if it was actually an operational company or if you were actually employed there, you may be stopped, questioned and placed in deportation proceedings.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Permanent Residence in the U.S.
If you are a resident, you can empower yourself (and protect your status) by understanding any risks you might face when you travel.
Effect of Travel
Once you are absent from the U.S. for 180 days or more, you are seeking admission to the United States, and CBP has free reign to ask questions about where you went during your travels outside the United States, what you did while you were traveling, your property in the United States, your criminal record (even criminal issues that have never been an issue during your previous travels), and the length of time you were out of the United States. Whether you answer honestly or not, and regardless of what stamps are in your passport, CBP has access to flight manifests to indicate when you actually left the U.S. and when you returned from previous trips.
Be aware that even if your resident card is valid, if you have been out of the U.S. for one year or more, the card by itself is not considered sufficient for you to board a plane to return. Airlines verify this information before boarding passengers, so you may be stopped from returning to the United States, and you may have to obtain permission from the local U.S. Embassy to board a plane to return to the United States.
Effect of Criminal History
If you have a criminal history, you need to understand that any criminal offense– even a misdemeanor level offense, or one for which you have completed your sentence or probation – can cause you to be subjected to scrutiny by CBP or even placed in removal proceedings. Criminal issues have an effect on your status and ability to travel. Even the most minor offenses can mean delays when returning to the U.S., and if you are flying and need to catch a connecting flight, this can be a huge inconvenience.
However, is some good news: In many cases, LPRs can take action before they make travel plans that can help to avoid these problems. You may learn that you should not travel unless and until you can become a U.S. citizen because you will be placed in removal proceedings when you return from international travel. You may find that you are eligible to file for citizenship, and becoming a U.S. citizen will mean the freedom to travel in and out of the United States as needed. Regardless of what you learn, it’s always better (and more cost effective) to know that your travel will cause problems for you than to travel and be detained or placed in immigration court – or both – when you return.
There are other steps you may be eligible to take in order to protect your ability to return to the U.S. after extended absences, such as applying for a reentry permit or applying to preserve your residence in the United States. Not all Permanent Residents will qualify for these options, but they can save lots of time, money and trouble for those who do.
Our office, operates under the view that it is better to be informed and prepared for any issues that may arise than to be surprised when they come up. We also know from experience that it’s much less expensive and stressful to be informed and prepared than to have to deal with unexpected deportation proceedings, the income lost while a person is detained, and attorneys’ fees. With all this in mind, we strongly encourage LPRs to read our guide and Know Before You Go!
Click here to download our free guide: