What Documents Can a Lawful Permanent Resident Use to Enter the U.S.?

A person seeking to be admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) must present one of the following documents to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a port of entry when arriving by air, land, or sea.[1]

Unless otherwise indicated, the document must be valid and unexpired. A document’s expiration depends on the moment the holder embarked or emplaned on a “continuous voyage” to the U.S.[2]:

  • “An immigrant visa, reentry permit, [or] refugee travel document … shall be regarded as unexpired if the rightful holder embarked or enplaned before [its] expiration.”
  • “[A] permanent resident card shall be regarded as unexpired if the rightful holder embarked or enplaned … before the first anniversary of the date on which he or she departed from the United States.”

Unless otherwise indicated below, a foreign passport is not required for admission as an LPR.

For samples of the documents discussed here, see USCIS, Commonly Used Immigration Documents (Mar. 23, 2023).

If you do not possess and are not able to obtain one of the valid entry documents discussed here, an alternative is to apply to CBP for a waiver of the valid entry document requirement using Form I-193, Application for Waiver of Passport and/or Visa. The waiver may be granted if:

  1. an immigrant is returning to an unrelinquished lawful permanent residence in the United States after a temporary absence abroad;
  2. the immigrant (not the officer) “believes that good cause exists for his or her failure to present” the required document;
  3. the immigrant is not otherwise admissible; and
  4. the immigrant merits a favorable exercise of discretion.

For more on this waiver, see Part 4.3 of our firm’s article, Best Practices for Protecting Your Permanent Resident Status, https://lawandborder.com/protecting-your-permanent-resident-status/.

1. Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card

A valid and unexpired Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card is acceptable to present to CBP, “if seeking admission after a temporary absence of less than 1 year.”[3]

There are several special situations[4]:

  • Crew members: A valid unexpired Form I-551, even if seeking readmission after an absence of one year or more, if regularly serving on board a vessel or aircraft of U.S. registry seeking readmission after any temporary absence connected with duties as a crew member.
  • I-751 or I-829 receipt notice: An expired Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card, accompanied by a filing receipt extending the validity of the card for a period which has not yet expired, for either a Form I–751, Petition to Remove the Conditions on Residence, or Form I–829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions, if seeking admission or readmission after a temporary absence of less than 1 year;
  • I-90 receipt notice: An expired Form I-551 accompanied by a filing receipt extending the validity of the card for a period which has not yet expired, for a Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card, if seeking readmission after a temporary absence of less than 1 year[5];
  • N-400 receipt notice: An expired Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card, accompanied by a filing receipt extending the validity of the card for a period which has not yet expired, for a Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, if seeking readmission after a temporary absence of less than 1 year.[6]
  • U.S. Government employees: A Form I–551, whether or not expired, presented by a civilian or military employee of the United States Government who was outside the United States pursuant to official orders, or by the spouse or child of such employee who resided abroad while the employee or serviceperson was on overseas duty and who is preceding, accompanying, or following to join within 4 months the employee, returning to the United States; or
  • American University of Beirut Employees: Form I–551, whether or not expired, or a transportation letter issued by an American consular officer, presented by an employee of the American University of Beirut, who was so employed immediately preceding travel to the United States, returning temporarily to the United States before resuming employment with the American University of Beirut, or resuming permanent residence in the United States.

2. Immigrant Visa and Passport

A valid, unexpired immigrant visa is an acceptable document to present to CBP. Immigrant visas include an annotation that “Upon endorsement serves as temporary I-551 evidencing permanent residence for one year.” Once stamped by CBP upon the initial entry to the U.S. with the visa, the visa and stamp serve as temporary evidence of LPR status for 12 months.

The SB-1 returning resident visa is of particular interest. If you have stayed outside the U.S. beyond the validity of your green card or reentry permit, then generally, to be eligible for an SB-1 visa, you must meet the following requirements:[7]

  1. You had the status of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence at the time of departure from the U.S.;
  2. You departed from the United States with the intention of returning;
  3. You have not abandoned this intention;
  4. You are returning to the United States from a “temporary” visit abroad; and
  5. “if the stay abroad was protracted, this was caused by reasons beyond [your] control and for which [you were] not responsible.”[8]

For more about SB-1 returning resident visas, see Part 4.2 of our firm’s article, Best Practices for Protecting Your Permanent Resident Status, https://lawandborder.com/protecting-your-permanent-resident-status/.

3. ADIT Stamp Contained in a Passport or on Form I-94

An ADIT (Alien Documentation, Identification and Telecommunication systems) stamp (also known as an I-551 stamp) is a stamp that is issued by USACIS and affixed to a page in one’s passport or on a Form I-94 card. The stamp serves as temporary proof of LPR status. An LPR may want to obtain an ADIT stamp if their Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card, has been lost, stolen, or destroyed, or if it never arrived, or if they are waiting for an extension of their LPR status to be approved.

For more about ADIT stamps, see our firm’s article, USCIS to Deliver Some ADIT Stamps by Mail (Mar. 19, 2023), https://lawandborder.com/uscis-to-deliver-some-adit-stamps-by-mail/.

4. Form I-327, Reentry Permit

If you plan to travel abroad for one year or more you should apply for a reentry permit.[9] A reentry permit is an entry document which can be issued by USCIS valid for multiple entries to the U.S. for up to two years from the date of issuance.

Also, even if each trip you make abroad will be shorter than one year, if you will be spending long periods abroad, it may be wise to apply for a reentry permit. The reason is that USCIS approval of a reentry permit involves determining that the proposed trip abroad will be temporary, so if you reenter the U.S. with that reentry permit after an absence consistent with the purpose explained in the reentry permit application, then CBP is unlikely to disagree with USCIS’ position by determining that the trip wasn’t temporary.[10] Important exceptions are that you wouldn’t benefit from that leniency if there was fraud or misrepresentation[11] in the application for the permit, or if later your reasons for staying abroad differ from the reasons you listed in your application.

A reentry permit is applied for using Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. A reentry permit is available only to an LPR who “intends to depart temporarily” from the U.S.[12] The application must state the reasons for and the length of the intended absence.[13] You must apply before leaving the U.S.[14] You will also be required to appear at an Application Support Center to provide biometrics (fingerprints, photograph).[15] It is permissible to depart the U.S. while the application is pending.[16] Approval of the application by USCIS is discretionary.[17]

Subsequent applications can be filed by an LPR physically present in the U.S. However, a person who since becoming an LPR has been outside the U.S. for more than four of the last five years will be limited to a one-year reentry permit, except for persons traveling on U.S. government orders, international organization employees, and professional athletes.[18]

For more about reentry permits, see our firm’s Guide to Reentry Permits.

5. Form I-571, Refugee Travel Document

A valid, unexpired Form I–571, Refugee Travel Document, properly endorsed to reflect admission as a lawful permanent resident, is an acceptable document to present to CBP.

6. Transportation Letter / Lincoln Boarding Foil

You may be issued a Travel Document (in the form of a transportation letter or boarding foil placed in your passport) if you are an LPR, you have been outside the U.S. for a continuous period of not more than one year (or two years with a Reentry Permit), and you are not in possession of a valid and unexpired entry document.[19] This may be useful if your entry document has been lost, stolen, or mutilated, or if your entry document has expired. For more information, request a copy of our firm’s Guide to Form I-131A, Application for Travel Document (Carrier Documentation).

7. Exceptions

The following persons may be admitted as LPRs with no entry document:

  • Child born abroad to lawful permanent resident: They may be boarded if the child was born during the temporary visit abroad of a mother who is a lawful permanent resident alien, or a national, of the United States. However, the child’s application for admission to the United States must be made within two years of birth and the child is accompanied by the parent who is applying for readmission as a permanent resident upon the first return of the parent to the United States after the birth of the child.
  • Child born abroad to an accompanying parent: The birth must have taken place after issuance of an immigrant visa to the parent but before the parent’s initial admission as an immigrant. The child must have a passport and birth certificate.
  • Alien member of the U.S. Armed Forces: Must have official orders and Military Identification Card.

Conclusion

For more information about valid entry documents, how to apply for them, other requirements for admission as an LPR, and steps you can take to protect your permanent resident status, feel free to schedule a consultation with our firm. For more details, see https://lawandborder.com/consult.

Footnotes

  1. See generally CBP, Carrier Information Guide (Mar. 22, 2019), https://www.cbp.gov/document/guides/carrier-information-guide-english; 8 C.F.R. § 211.1(a). See also CBP, Reminder of Current Policy: Boarding of Lawful Permanent Residents (Mar. 5, 2021), https://www.cbp.gov/sites/default/files/assets/documents/2021-Dec/Reminder-%20LPR%20Boarding%2020210305.pdf.

    The statute generally requires an immigrant to possess an immigrant visa. INA §§ 211(a); INA § 212(a)(7(A)(i)(I). But the statute also allows DHS to promulgate regulations allowing admission of a returning LPR as a “special immigrant” without an immigrant visa (or reentry permit). INA § 211(b). A “special immigrant” is defined to include an “immigrant, lawfully admitted for permanent residence, who is returning from a temporary visit abroad.” INA § 212(a)(7)(A)(i)(I). 8 C.F.R. § 211.1(a) is promulgated pursuant to that statutory authority.

  2. 8 C.F.R. § 211.3. “The continuity of the voyage shall not be deemed to have been interrupted by scheduled or emergency stops of the vessel or aircraft en route to the United States or foreign contiguous territory, or by a layover in foreign contiguous territory necessitated solely for the purpose of effecting a transportation connection to the United States.” Id.

  3. 8 C.F.R. § 211.1(a)(2).

  4. 8 C.F.R. § 211.1(a).

  5. USCIS to Replace Sticker That Extends Validity of Greencards (Jan. 12, 2021), AILA Doc. No. 21011233.

  6. USCIS, USCIS Updates Policy to Automatically Extend Green Cards for Naturalization Applicants, https://www.uscis.gov/newsroom/alerts/uscis-updates-policy-to-automatically-extend-green-cards-for-naturalization-applicants (Dec. 9, 2022).

  7. 22 C.F.R. § 42.22(a); 9 FAM 502.7-2(B); DOS, Returning Resident Visas (last viewed Oct. 26, 2020).

  8. 22 C.F.R. § 42.22(a)(3).

  9. 8 C.F.R. § 211.1(b)(2).

  10. By statute, a reentry permit “has no effect under the immigration laws except to show that the [holder] is returning from a temporary visit abroad.” INA § 223(e) (added by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, ch 477, Title II, Ch 3, § 223, 66 Stat. 194; Dec. 29, 1981, P.L. 97-116, § 6, 95 Stat. 1615). INS regulations issued in 1994 interpreting this statute make it plain that the holder of a reentry permit doesn’t benefit from a conclusive presumption that his or her trip abroad was temporary. Instead, the presumption is more limited: an LPR “shall not be deemed to have abandoned status based solely on the duration of an absence or absences while the permit is valid.” 8 C.F.R. § 223.3(d)(1) (emphasis added), added by 59 Fed. Reg. 1455 (Jan. 11, 1994); The regulation allows DHS to investigate the purpose of the foreign travel. see Moin v. Ashcroft, 335 F.3d 415 (5th Cir. 2003) (“[A] reentry permit, in and of itself, does not prevent a finding that an alien has abandoned her permanent residency status.”). Still, according to most caselaw, a reentry permit holder benefits from a rebuttable presumption that the travel was temporary. Hamburg-American Line v. United States, 291 U.S. 420 (1934) (stating in dicta that the permit is “prima facie evidence” of the trip’s temporariness); Pascual v. Carroll, 1992 WL 232467 (4th Cir. 1992) (unpublished opinion) (Issuance of reentry permit creates presumption that trip abroad was temporary); Zachrias v. McGrath, 105 F.Supp. 421 (D. D.C. 1952) (following Hamburg-American Line); Letter, Weinig, Field Manual Project Director, INS (Aug. 17, 1997), reprinted in 74 Interpreter Releases 1256, 1274-76 (Aug. 18, 1996) (acknowledging presumption that reentry permit holder retains LPR status). But see Matter of V, 4 I. & N. Dec. 143 (BIA 1950) (“[I]n the absence of fraud or misrepresentation, it is not proper for the immigration authorities to re-try the authorities to re-try the question of whether the alien has maintained a residence in the United States or his absence from the United States was temporary.”)

  11. Grubisich v. Esperdy, 175 F. Supp. 445 (S.D.N.Y. 1959) (Reentry permit holder inadmissible because of misrepresentation in the application for the permit).

  12. INA § 223(a).

  13. INA § 223(a). The application will be denied if USCIS determines that the proposed departure is not for a “temporary” visit. Matter of Thomopoulus, 15 I. & N. Dec. 466 (BIA 1975).

  14. 8 C.F.R. § 223.2(b)(1).

  15. USCIS Press Release, Update: Biometric Changes For Re-entry Permits and Refugee Travel Documents (Mar. 5, 2008).

  16. 8 C.F.R. § 223.2(d).

  17. 8 C.F.R. § 223.2(b)(1).

  18. 8 C.F.R. § 223.2(c)(2).

  19. I-131 Instructions at 1-2 (Feb. 13, 2019).

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