Friday, March 7, 2008

If you have a Green Card . . .

. . . you should be aware that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued revised instructions for USCIS Form I-131, Application for Travel Document (re-entry permit) that requires a new procedure for collecting biometric data on travelers.

The new instructions for Form I-131 require that applicants for re-entry permits who are ages 14 through 79 provide biometrics (fingerprints and photographs) at an Application Support Center (ACS) before departing from the United States. Applicants also are strongly encouraged to apply, whenever possible, well in advance of their anticipated travel dates to allow time to attend their ASC appointments and to receive their travel documents. Shortly after filing an I-131 form for a Re-entry Permit, USCIS will mail the applicant his or her receipt and an ASC scheduling notice. The Form I-131 instructions also provide guidance for certain persons who are abroad at the time of filing to visit a U.S. Embassy or consulate for fingerprinting, although all applicants are urged to file before leaving the United States.
The instructions also discuss the requirement for applicants for re-entry permits who are in the United States to pay the $80 biometrics services fee, or to submit a biometrics fee waiver request with sufficient documentation to support their inability to pay the fee. As in the past, the application fee for the I-131 form cannot be waived.
Obtaining a re-entry permit before traveling abroad for an extended stay is something many Green Card holders forget, and most of the time the border inspector is fairly lenient with returning permanent residents. But, the law is clear that if a Green Card holder leaves the United States for anything other than a temporary purpose, he or she loses permanent resident status automatically. This means that when the Green Card holder attempts to return to the U.S. he or she can be detained at the port of entry and held pending a determination of abandonment by an immigration judge and then denied entry. The leading administrative case on this subject is Matter of Kane (15 I&N 258, BIA 1975). That case involved a Green Card holder who lived 11 months out of each year in Jamaica, where she ran a boarding house, and then returned to the United States for one month, where she rented a room by the week. The Board of Immigration Appeals held that the Green Card holder had abandoned her residence in the U.S. and was no longer entitled to enter as an immigrant.

Filing Form I-131, in which you set forth the temporary nature of the visit abroad, before traveling reduces considerably the risk of having re-entry problems.