A green card, also known as the Lawful Permanent Resident Card, gives you the right to permanently live and work in the United States. After you have obtained a green card, you are recognized by U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be a legal permanent resident of the United States.
In addition to allowing you to get a job, apply for social security and even get a driver’s license, your green card allows for re-entry into the United States when you are traveling abroad. In fact, lawful permanent residents do not need a passport to re-enter the United States — their green card alone is sufficient identification at US ports of entry.
However, only valid green cards are accepted for re-entry into the United States. If your green card is expired, you will have to renew your green card in order to re-enter the country.
You should always check your green card expiration date before traveling internationally. If there’s any chance your card will expire during your travels, you should postpone your trip until you’re able to renew your card.
Do I Need a Passport to Travel to Other Countries?
The United States does not issue passports to Lawful Permanent Residents because their green card allows them to re-enter the United States. That’s great for re-entering the country, what about getting into foreign countries when traveling?
Lawful Permanent Residents are encouraged to keep their foreign passport (from their home country) for international travels. Obtaining a US passport isn’t an option until you become a naturalized US citizen, so using your foreign passport is the only way to enter foreign countries.
What is an I-551 Stamp?
In addition to carrying a physical green card, Lawful Permanent Residents can obtain an I-551 Stamp in their foreign passport. The I-551 Stamp serves as interim evidence of permanent residency status when the passport-holder’s green card is lost or expired.
Where a traditional green card lasts for 10 years, an I-551 Stamp is only valid for 6-12 months. During this time, the Lawful Permanent Resident may use their passport with the I-551 Stamp to re-enter the United States after traveling abroad.
How Do I Obtain an I-551 Stamp?
To obtain an I-551 stamp to temporarily prove that you are a Lawful Permanent Resident, you will need to set an appointment with a USCIS immigration officer to renew your expired, lost or stolen green card.
The I-551 stamp can be obtained and used in place of a green card, but remember it’s only temporary. You’ll still need to renew or replace your expired or lost green card.
What Can I Use an I-551 Stamp For?
An I-551 Stamp functions just like a green card. You can use it to obtain work, get a driver’s license, and re-enter the United States after traveling abroad.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for employers, DMV officials, and even immigration authorities to misunderstand the validity of an I-551 Stamp. If you run into any issues with someone refusing to accept your I-551 Stamp, you should speak with an immigration attorney who can help you clear the matter.
I Lost My Green Card While Traveling Abroad
If you lose your green card and you do not have a passport with a valid I-551 stamp, you will need to contact USCIS before arriving at a United States port of entry. Depending on the situation, the USCIS representative may advise you to renew your green card, apply for an I-551 Stamp, or apply for a replacement green card.
Unfortunately, you cannot re-enter the United States until you have a valid green card or I-551 Stamp. There are ways to expedite the application process, but it will still take some time. In the meantime, you’ll be forced to wait outside the United States.
Situations like this can be monumentally challenging, as you’re completely at the mercy (and processing speed) of USCIS. If you find yourself in this predicament, you should contact an immigration attorney who can help you resolve the matter as quickly and efficiently as possible.
To avoid the issue of a lost green card, consider getting an I-551 Stamp before traveling internationally. In the rare chance you lose your green card, you will still be able to return to the United States with the I-551 Stamp. Once home, you can apply for a replacement green card.
What is a White Passport?
Lawful Permanent Residents who leave the United States for more than one year are believed to have abandoned their US residency, and their green card will be revoked. If you must travel internationally for more than one year and you do not want to lose your green card, you’ll need to apply for a re-entry permit before leaving the United States.
The re-entry permit that USCIS issues in such situations is commonly referred to as a white passport. However, it’s not actually a passport — it only permits re-entry into the United States.
Even with a white passport, leaving the country for over a year poses a serious risk to your Lawful Permanent Residency. It can also cause trouble when you are ready to apply for naturalized citizenship.
To avoid jeopardizing your Lawful Permanent Residency and future naturalization, you should speak with an immigration attorney before leaving the country for over a year. It’s important to take the right steps to protect your current and future legal status.
Are Refugees Allowed to Travel Outside of the U.S?
Refugees, regardless of having a green card or not, are required to fill out a refugee travel document before traveling outside of the U.S. In essence, a refugee travel document acts as a passport by allowing a refugee to re-enter the U.S following international travel.
Refugees and asylum seekers are generally advised not to return to their home country without good cause. Doing so risks an immigration judge determining that you’ve abandoned your asylum or refugee status, and are not in danger of remaining in your home country.
Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.