What happens if I have a green card and I’ve been out of the United States for too long? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer, practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St, Louis, Missouri. Today’s question comes in by email from my man, Samara. Samara’s wondering what happens if I have a green card or if my wife has a green card and she’s been out of the United States for too long and she wants to reenter the United States. Now, too long, it’s probably more than a year.
Now, generally we tell people, if you have a green card, do not be out of the United States for more than six months and don’t cut it too close. Don’t cut it five months and three weeks because you never know. You might fall and break your hip or you might have a medical emergency for your mother and that can lead you to being outside of the United States for more than six months.
The reason that’s important is because that can break your continuous residency for purposes of applying for citizenship. So if citizenship is something that’s important for you, you should definitely not be out of the United States for more than six months. But let’s say that you had a green card from long ago, you went out of the… And this happens a lot, we get contacted like this. I remember when I was a brand new immigration lawyer, we had a few calls like this where people had been out of the United States for a really long time. They tried to reenter the United States with an old green card. It hadn’t expired, but it hadn’t been used in awhile and the person hadn’t been residing in the United States for awhile, and then they tried to enter the United States. Well, what happens? Well, of course with any possible entry into the United States, one of three things can happen and you can sort of think of it as a red light, a green light, and a yellow light.
So of course the red light would be that they don’t let you back in and they turn you around and you have to buy a last minute plane ticket to go back to your home country. A yellow light would mean that you are allowed into the United States, but you might be placed into what’s called deferred inspection, which means that you’re going to have to bring evidence to your local customs office, CBP border patrol, and demonstrate why you did not abandon your residency. And if you don’t satisfy the attorneys for CBP, you might be placed into removal. Then of course the green light is you’re allowed into the United States.
You never, ever, ever want to be out of the United States for more than a year because it’s basically opening you up to the chance of them taking away your green card. So don’t ever, ever stay outside the United States for more than a year. But if you have, like I said, we get these calls, I think for the most part, they’re probably not going to let you in. They might let you in. They should let you in. They should let you in and and tell you that you’re going to have to see an immigration judge. They can send you to removal, like I said, and you’re going to have to convince a judge that you didn’t abandon your residency or that you have some independent basis for staying here.
So this is a real problem. Most people in these situations, that I’ve seen, just throw in the towel in and basically surrender their green card. They’re either starting over or they’re stuck outside of the United States until they find some other way to come. Generally, I don’t think that anyone can rely on the good graces of CBP and just being allowed back in when they’ve had a green card and they allowed it to not be used and have not entered the United States for years and years.
The fact of the matter is the federal government views the bestowing of a green card upon you as a gift, of sorts. And they don’t like it when you sort of throw that gift in their face and don’t use the green card. So you’re really putting yourself at peril if you don’t follow the rules, if you don’t come back to the United States under six months, or even under a year. Even a year and a day can really cause you trouble, so don’t cut it too close. Like I said, don’t ever do it. But if you do, you can give us a call. We might not be able to do much for you, but at least we can talk through what your options are.
But basically I’m going to tell you what I told you on this video because we try to give away all of our best information on these videos. It’s not like we’re hiding anything. We obviously encourage you not to do this. Don’t try to enter the United States with an expired green card. There are certain things you can do if your green card has been lost, to try to get back in, but it’s really complicated and it’s really slow and it’s really hard. A lot of times, ironically, these people who’ve been out of the United States for a really long time on a green card, now want to come back all of a sudden because of some emergency in the United States and they’re really in a deep pit of trouble.
If you have questions about this, about how you might lose your green card or how you might lose your lawful permanent residence status, give us a call. 314-961-8200. You can email us at [email protected] You can always find us in our Facebook group, which is called Immigrant Home. And if you like this video, we ask you to please share it out on social, spread the word. Subscribe to our YouTube channel or any of our other channels so that whenever we make a video like this one, you’re one of the first people to learn about it. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.