“I am writing from Ireland, where I have been living for the past seven months. I have a green card that I got nearly three years ago, as I lived in the States and was married to a U.S. citizen. I am planning a visit to the U.S. to keep my card valid, but then I’ll return to Ireland, hopefully for good but fully aware that this might not pan out. I very much want to keep my green card valid, but I don’t want to have to keep coming back and forth to the U.S. each year. I know that there is something I can apply for that will keep the card good indefinitely. How do I do that?”
When you return to the U.S. -- make sure and do so before you’ve been out of the country for one year, as after that point immigration officials could strip you of your status – you will have to immediately apply for what’s known as an I-131 re-entry permit, available from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
The permit, if approved, allows the holder to be absent from the U.S. for up to two years after the date of issuance. However, there are some issues that you’ll need to bear in mind.
It’s important to start the I-131 process right after you return to the U.S., because the document must be applied for while the applicant is physically present here. Also, since last year, applicants are required to provide fingerprints and photographs at a USCIS application support center as part of the process.
Obviously, this process can take some time which is why it’s important to get going right away, especially if your time here will be relatively short.
The I-131 form is available at www.uscis.gov. It would probably be wise to request expedited processing of your case, which would require you to file the form via U.S. mail at the address on the paperwork. If by chance your stay here will be an extended one, you’ll have the option of filing the I-131 online through the USCIS e-filing link.
As far as expedited processing goes, USCIS advises the following, “If applicants require expedited processing, the instructions provide specific information for submitting pre-paid express mailers with the I-131 for USCIS to send the applicant his or her receipt and application support center appointment notice, as well as the completed re-entry permit or refugee travel document, if approved. A request for expedited processing should contain the applicant’s reasons for such processing so that USCIS may determine whether the applicant qualifies for expedited processing.”
The filing fee for the I-131 is $305, plus an additional $80 for the fingerprints/photos. Though you must be present in the U.S. for the filing and fingerprints/photos, it is possible for the approved re-entry permit to be mailed to the U.S. Embassy in Dublin for you to collect.
In order to preserve your status as a permanent resident, you’ll have to enter the U.S. before the I-131 permit expires. Once it is expired you can apply for another one, if necessary, which would be valid for a further two years.
Those applying for re-entry permits who have been out of the U.S. for more than four of the last five years can apply for a permit with a validity of no more than one year.