Before discussing what a “returning resident immigrant visa” is, it may be helpful for you to know the definitions of three important immigration-related terms first:

  • Lawful permanent resident: A lawful permanent resident is an immigrant who has been granted approval to live and work permanently in the United States. You may be more familiar with the other term used for persons who hold this status, namely, a “green card holder.”
  • Conditional permanent resident: A conditional permanent resident has many of the same rights as a lawful permanent resident except that their status will expire after two years. Hence, the word “conditional.” This status is usually given to persons who have been married to a U.S. citizen for less than two years. A conditional permanent resident will then need to apply to adjust their status, once this two-year period has passed.
  • Returning resident: A returning resident can be described as a lawful permanent resident who has traveled outside of the United States and is now seeking to re-enter the country to resume living and working under their lawful permanent resident status. Depending on the circumstances, a returning resident is also sometimes referred to as a “special immigrant.”

Now that those three terms have been defined, it may be easier to understand the concept of a “returning resident immigrant visa.” A returning resident immigrant visa is a type of visa that allows a lawful permanent resident or a conditional resident to re-enter the United States after they have been traveling abroad for a certain period of time. It is also known as an SB-1 immigrant visa or a re-entry permit.

Although all of the visas just mentioned primarily serve the same purpose, which is to allow a lawful permanent resident or a conditional resident to resume living in the U.S., they each have slightly different requirements. For instance, consider the following uses:

  • Returning resident immigrant visa: This title is used to refer to the general category of these types of visas. If you are a lawful permanent resident or conditional resident who has remained abroad beyond the amount of time prescribed by your immigration documents, then you will need to submit an application to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) agency for approval of returning resident status. 
  • SB-1 immigrant visa: If you are a lawful permanent resident or conditional resident who remained outside the U.S. for longer than the amount of time allowed due to circumstances or conditions beyond your control (e.g., ban on international travel, war times, etc.), then you may need to apply for an SB-1 immigrant visa as a “special immigrant.” This must be done in the same country in which you are traveling from.
  • Re-entry permit: If a lawful permanent resident or conditional resident expects that their travels abroad will take longer than a year, then they may want to apply for a re-entry permit. A re-entry permit will allow such immigrants to remain abroad for a period no longer than two years. To do this, you must file a Form-131 with the USCIS. Again, if the two-year period expires before you return, then you may not be allowed back into the country.

Normally, a person who holds a permanent resident card or green card will not need to apply for one of these visas if they have only been abroad for less than twelve months. If a person is seeking to re-enter into the U.S. after a period of less than twelve months, then they can usually just show their permanent resident card to gain re-entry. 

On the other hand, if a person has stayed abroad for a year or longer, then they typically will need to obtain some form of a returning resident visa to be allowed back into the U.S. again. In general, the majority of situations that involve applying for this type of visa are because a person failed to return to the U.S. before the one-year period expired. 

However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as if you hold a special two-year permit, are a child or spouse of a member of the U.S. military, or are a civilian employed by the U.S. government who was stationed abroad. 

To learn more about the types of returning resident visas and whether you may need to apply for one before you can return to the U.S., you should speak to a local immigration lawyer for further advice as soon as possible. Otherwise, you may not be allowed back into the U.S. right away and you could jeopardize your permanent resident status. 

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for Obtaining a Returning Resident SB-1 Visa? 

In order to obtain a returning resident or SB-1 visa, a person must be able to prove the following factors:

  • That they were either granted lawful permanent resident or conditional permanent resident status before they departed from the U.S.;
  • That they left the U.S. with the intention to return and that this intention has not changed since they were abroad. This may also involve demonstrating that they had no intention to abandon their U.S. resident status;
  • That they are not ineligible to obtain a visa in any other regard (e.g., they are not wanted for a crime); and
  • That if they remained in another country for reasons beyond their control, then they must prove that those reasons were justified and valid under U.S. immigration laws. Some reasons that may be considered as valid can include that the person was sick or pregnant and could not leave the place they were visiting abroad.

What Does the Returning Resident Application Process Involve?

The process for applying for a return resident status can take as long as up to three months to complete. The application process will likely require an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and possibly, a medical exam. Thus, returning residents should not delay if they fear their time might expire before they can return to the U.S.

The returning resident application process may also vary, depending on which U.S. Embassy or Consulate a person is applying from. Prospective candidates should review that country’s specific information and instructions on the designated U.S. Embassy or Consulate website.

In general, however, applicants will typically need the following documents:

  • A completed Form DS-117, which is an Application to Determine Returning Resident Status; 
  • A Form-551, their Permanent Resident Card;
  • Their Re-entry Permit if they were issued one;
  • Documents that display the dates they traveled abroad (e.g., passport stamps, airline tickets, etc.);
  • Documents that show proof of intention to return to the U.S. (e.g., tax returns, family or friends reside there, business ties, etc.);
  • Evidence that shows a person remained outside of the U.S. for reasons beyond their control (e.g., medical bills, employment with a U.S. company headquartered elsewhere, etc.);
  • All travel documents, such as passports and any other country or state identification cards;
  • Two recent photographs that meet the specified requirements;
  • A copy of their medical exam and proof that the individual received the requisite vaccines; 
  • A completed Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Registration Application; and 
  • Any other civil documents that are requested by a particular country’s U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Additionally, it should be noted that there may be filing fees associated with some of these documents. Thus, the individual should expect to pay some amount of money in order to submit their final application.

Once all necessary documents have been submitted and the individual has attended their interview, someone at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate will review the file. This will allow them to determine whether a person is eligible to receive a returning resident immigrant visa or not.

What if My Application for a Returning Resident Visa Is Denied?

If a person’s application for a returning resident visa is denied because they do not meet the necessary eligibility requirements, then the decision may result in the loss of their permanent resident status. This is especially true in cases where a person does not have a valid reason for why they extended their stay abroad.

Generally speaking, the most common reason as to why a person will be denied an SB-1 immigrant visa is due to their inability to establish proof of ties to the United States. If a person is unable to show proof of ties and their intention to return to the U.S., then they may need to apply under the same immigrant visa category that they used when they originally arrived in the U.S. 

In other words, this means they will have to establish permanent resident status all over again as if they were never granted it in the first place.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Returning Resident Immigrant Visa?

As discussed above, returning resident SB-1 immigrant visas are only available under special circumstances. Thus, if you believe you may have extended your travels abroad beyond the specified period, then it may be in your best interest to consult with a local immigration lawyer immediately. An experienced immigration lawyer will be able to advise you of your options under current U.S. immigration laws. 

Additionally, your lawyer will be able to guide you through the necessary application process required to obtain a returning resident or SB-1 immigrant visa. Also, if you are planning on traveling abroad and have not left the U.S. yet, your lawyer can help you in securing a re-entry permit as well.