A “returning resident” is any lawful permanent resident (LPR) who has traveled outside of the U.S. and is seeking re-entry for the purposes of resuming permanent residence. A returning resident must obtain a new immigrant visa if they have remained outside the U.S. beyond the validity period for re-entry. For green card holders, the re-entry validity period is one year.  The validity period for Re-Entry permits is usually 2 years.
 
Returning residents are also called “special immigrants”. If they have stayed outside the U.S. longer than the re-entry validity period due to circumstances beyond their control, they may be eligible to obtain a special immigrant visa (SB-1 visa) for re-entry. You can apply for a Returning Resident SB-1 immigrant visa at the nearest U.S. Consulate or Embassy.
 
If you are found to be eligible for an SB-1 visa, it will eliminate the need to go through more lengthy immigration procedures such as obtaining a petition from a U.S. citizen.

What are the eligibility requirements for obtaining a Returning Resident SB-1 visa?

To qualify for returning resident status, you need to prove to a consular officer that:
 
  • You had a valid status of lawful permanent resident at the time you departed from the U.S.;
  • You departed from the United States with the intent to return, and that you have not changed this intention;
  • You are returning to the U.S. after a temporary visit to another country. If the stay exceeded the period for valid re-entry, this must be due to reasons beyond your control and for which you were not responsible for

What does the returning resident application process involve?

The entire process of obtaining a returning resident SB-1 immigration visa can take up to three months to complete. Therefore, it is advisable to begin the application process as soon as possible in order to prevent any further delays. Generally, the application process involves interviews with a Consular Officer, as well as:
 
  • Submitting the following forms:
    • Completed Form DS-117, Application to Determine Returning Resident Status
    • Form-551, Permanent Resident Card
    • Re-Entry Permit (if available)
  • Submitting the following supporting documents:
    • Dates of travel to countries outside of the U.S. (for example, submit airline ticket stubs, passport stamps, etc.)
    • Proof your ties to the U.S. and your intent to return (for example, tax returns, evidence of familial, social, and economic ties to the U.S.)
    • Proof that your stay outside the U.S. was extended for reasons outside of your control (for example, medical incapacitation, accompanying a citizen spouse, employment with a U.S. organization)
  • Fees: the process will involve paying both visa processing and medical fees
Prior to your interview(s), you should make sure that you gather the following items and make copies of them for your records:
 
  • Form DS-230, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration
  • Your original passport
  • Two photographs which meet specified photo guidelines
  • Any civil documents requested by the Consulate or Embassy
Once all the required documents have been submitted and an interview has been conducted, a Consular Officer will review your file to determine your eligibility for SB-1 status. Finally, you should be eligible for an immigration visa in all other aspects, such as not having serious criminal charges on your record.

What if my application for a Returning Resident Visa is denied?

If your application has been denied because you do not meet the eligibility requirements, it may possibly result in abandonment or relinquishing of permanent resident status, since you have stayed outside the U.S. beyond the valid re-entry period. 
 
The most common ground for denying an SB-1 is because of an inability to establish evidence of ties to the U.S. If you are unable to demonstrate your ties to the U.S. and your intent to return, you might have to apply for an immigrant visa under the same category which you originally immigrated.

Do I need a lawyer for a Returning Resident immigrant visa?

Returning Resident SB-1 immigrant visas are available only under certain circumstances. If you have overstayed your travels outside the U.S., you may wish to consult with an immigration lawyer regarding your possible options. They will be able to inform you of immigration laws and guide you through the application process.