With global travel disruptions reaching six months, lawful permanent residents (LPRs) and conditional permanent residents (CPRs) who are abroad and cannot currently travel back to the United States due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic are experiencing extended absences from the United States. Absences from the United States between six months to one year by a permanent resident may result in questioning at the time of reentry to the United States by the inspecting officer. Absences from the United States of more than one year can be more problematic. Those LPRs or CPRs who cannot, for whatever reason, return to the United States within the required timeframe may need to secure a “returning resident visa” from a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad.
LPRs or CPRs who have remained outside the United States for longer than one year, or beyond the validity period of a two-year re-entry permit, may require a returning resident visa to re-enter the United States and resume permanent residence. The returning resident visa is intended for LPRs or CPRs who departed the United States with the intention of returning to the United States, and only prolonged their stay outside the country due to circumstances beyond their control. For an LPR or CPR, qualifying reasons for remaining outside the United States for longer than one year or beyond the validity period of a two-year re-entry permit could include, but are not limited to, severe illness, pregnancy, third-party withholding of passport or travel documents, or government restrictions on outbound international travel such as those that may have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning resident visa applicants must be able to justify their excessive absence from the United States due to circumstances “beyond their control” while presenting sufficient support for their continuous desire to promptly resume residence in the United States due to strong and continuous financial, employment, family, and social ties to the country.
LPRs or CPRs abroad with the possibility of remaining outside the United States for longer than one year, or beyond the validity period of a two-year re-entry permit, should be cognizant of the requirement of maintaining and being able to document continuous financial, employment, family and social ties to the United States. Such documents could include copies of U.S. income tax returns, property ownership documentation, employment documentation, and evidence of family and social ties, among other relevant documentation. This documentation will potentially establish that the original intent of the trip was temporary in nature. Due to the infrequent availability of appointment dates as U.S. consulates and embassies worldwide gradually resume routine services following initial closures due to COVID-19, returning resident visa applicants are encouraged to plan their applications sooner rather than later to avoid prolonging their stays abroad even further throughout the application process, which is substantively similar to that of other immigrant visa applications and also requires a medical examination.