What happens if I stay outside the United States more than six months on a green card? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States at our office here in St. Louis, Missouri. I have today’s question. It’s right off one of our emails that we received here in the office.
You know, we’ve been getting a lot of good questions and feedback. Keep them coming. If you have questions that you want us to answer and we think that they’re of general applicability to all of our viewers, we’d be happy to shoot a video about that. In this week’s email newsletter, I had asked people to send me more questions and we got a lot of good ones, so keep them coming. You can email those at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All right, so today’s question comes from Mukhtar. I’m going to read it to you.
“Hi. I do have a question. I’m a permanent green card holder. I’ve been outside the US for just a little over six months. I’m planning to return back in March, 2020 from Canada. Would I face an issue at the airport? Second question, I traveled by road to Canada at the time, so I only gave the Canada Border Service Officer my green card. Would the CBP know how long I’ve been outside the United States?”
Okay, so let’s take that first question about being outside of the United States for more than six months. Generally that’s going to break your timeline for citizenship. So unless you can show that you did not abandon your residency, this is going to screw up your ability to apply for citizenship.
So let’s say that you had received your green card four years ago, then you’re outside the United States for more than six months. You didn’t maintain sufficient ties in the United States. You’re going to have a problem when you apply for naturalization in that your clock is sort of going to reset and you’re going to be starting over. So we always advise people don’t stay outside the United States for more than six months. And so that’s a general rule, that would have been true in the last three presidential administrations.
But with this current administration, I think you’re also putting yourself at risk of them questioning, “Why did we give you this green card?” They might give you a hassle when you come back to the United States. They might pull you in a secondary inspection, they might put you in deferred inspection, which means that you’re going to have to demonstrate to their satisfaction at some later date, and that is Customs Border Patrol, that you did not abandon your residency.
So staying outside the United States for more than six months is a problem. You shouldn’t do it, and you should be prepared for a delay when you come back or try to enter and go through customs at the airport in Canada.
As to the second question is using your green card to travel outside the United States, and whether or not CBP will “know what you did”, and how long you’re gone. Here’s the problem. You have to be honest, you have to be completely honest and if they ask you, you’re going to have to be honest as to when you left, and when you came back. And so you don’t want to be too clever. Just be honest.
Tell them the truth and deal with the fallout. It’s not a deportable offense to be outside the United States for more than six months, at least not yet. And you’re going to get into much more trouble for lying to them.
So, I don’t like it when people ask me questions, “Well, how will they know?” I should probably do a whole video on how will they know, and I think maybe I have in the past. But you know, you always have to be honest and you always have to tell the truth.
So just because you haven’t gotten caught in the past doesn’t mean you won’t get caught this time. So it’s not a good mindset to have in immigration. It’s not a good idea to say to yourself, “How will they know?” Because you know what? A lot of times they won’t know, you’re right. But on those times where they do know, and we’ve seen this time and time again, in all kinds of cases, you get in a whole lot of trouble.
So I would say Mukhtar, that you should get back here as fast as you can. You shouldn’t stay out for more than six months if you can avoid it, and you should be prepared for delays when you come back, and when you come back, you’re going to want to make sure that you stay here and you don’t do that again. If you keep having these trips of more than six months outside of the United States, all it takes is one difficult customs official to really make your life miserable.
So hopefully Mukhtar, you won’t be doing that, hopefully you’ll get back on the straight path.
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