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How Do You Apply For A Returning Resident Visa?

If you are a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the US, you are entitled to leave the country for an extended period. However, you are required to follow a particular set of rules to maintain your permanent resident status.  

As a green card holder, you are expected to return to the US within one year of departure. Otherwise, the government may deem that you have abandoned your permanent resident status, even if your green card has not expired yet. If you need to leave the country for an extended period of more than one year, you should apply for a re-entry permit in the US before you depart abroad.

You may apply for a maximum period of up to two years for a re-entry permit. Also, you may request that the re-entry permit be valid for one trip or multiple trips. If you do not return to the US before the re-entry permit expires, you risk losing your green card and may have to start the immigration process all over again from the beginning.

To avoid this and maintain your LPR status, you can apply for what is known as a returning resident immigrant visa (SB-1).

What is a returning resident visa?

A returning resident immigrant visa (SB-1) is given explicitly to individuals who have exceeded their limits on extended travel outside the US as a way for them to keep their permanent resident status. 

The SB-1 visa is given to those who have previously held a US immigrant visa or green card. However, not everyone can obtain a returning resident visa, and certain conditions must be met.

To qualify for a returning resident's visa, you must prove that your reasons for exceeding the extended travel limits were beyond your control.

Furthermore, you must demonstrate that you had every intention to return to the US and highlight your strong attachments here: family ties, properties, bank accounts, etc.

Valid reasons that may have prevented you from returning to the US include:

  • An unexpected illness
  • A pregnancy that did not allow travel 
  • Being unable to get permission to leave the country where you were staying
  • COVID-19 restrictions

How do you qualify for Returning Resident Status?

Before you can get an SB-1 visa, you must first apply for returning resident status. This means completing a DS-117 form.  

As part of this application form, you'll be asked to provide information on the following: 

  • Significant ties you have in the US
  • Reason for not returning on time
  • Close family members in the US
  • Travel history outside the US

All documents that you provide will be returned to you later. Making copies of your supporting documents is a good idea for your personal records.

After all your documentation has been submitted, the US Embassy or Consulate will determine your eligibility for returning resident status.

How to apply for a Returning Resident Visa

After you have been deemed eligible for returning resident status, the US Embassy or Consulate will notify you of the next steps. These steps are as follows: 

  • Attend a consular interview -  during this interview; you'll give as many details as possible about your situation and answer all questions truthfully.
  • Medical examination - you'll receive information and instructions regarding a medical examination you will be expected to undergo. This will include a list of all required vaccinations to enter the United States.
  • Complete Form DS-260 - A  DS-260 is part of determining your eligibility for a returning resident visa. It is filled out on the US Department of State's Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website.

You'll need to bring the following forms and documents to the US Embassy or Consulate on the day of your interview: 

  • Your original passport 
  • DS-117 form (previously filled out as part of your application to obtain returning resident status) 
  • Two passport-style photographs 
  • Your green card 
  • Your re-entry permit (if applicable) 

These forms will need to be accompanied by some supporting documents that can prove the following: 

  • Proof of your travel dates outside of the US (airline tickets, itineraries, passport stamps)
  • Evidence of essential ties you have to the US which highlight your intention to return (family, properties, tax returns)
  • Proof that the exceeded travel period was out of your control (medical records, doctor letters)

There are two costs associated with an SB-1 visa application. The first fee is paid when you file your DS-117. The second fee is an immigrant visa application fee.

What happens if the SB-1 visa application is denied

If your application for a returning resident visa is unsuccessful, and you still want to return to the US, your only option is to apply for a new immigrant visa to return to the US.

This does not mean that you have to apply under the same category and on the same basis as your original immigrant visa application. However, this process, if still available to you, will take a long time to complete.

This is why getting it right the first time is so important.   

If you're looking for expert help with your returning resident visa application, then Meimaris Law can help. 

With over 25 years experience with immigration law, we’ll guide you through the application process from beginning to end.

Get in touch today for a free consultation with our team and discuss how we can help you.

Immigration advice when you need it.

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