I have filed my I-526 petition and would like to know more about the stay requirements and travel options after its approval. How long do I have to physically remain in the U.S. as a conditional green card holder and a green card holder? If my I-526 gets approved and I need to travel, what kind of travel documents do I need to obtain?
With a green card you must live in the U.S. Short absences are acceptable, but if working or living abroad, you need to explain why and get advance permission.
Conditional U.S. permanent residents and unconditional U.S. permanent residents should spend the majority of their time in the United States in order to maintain their permanent resident status. After your I-526 petition is approved, you must apply for an immigrant visa at the appropriate U.S. consular post abroad. If your immigrant visa interview is successful, then you will receive a immigrant visa in your passport. You present your immigrant visa when you make your next trip to the U.S. and appear at the U.S. international airport. After you are admitted to the U.S. as conditional permanent, USCIS will send you your conditional permanent resident card by mail. You use this conditional permanent resident card when you return to the U.S. from a trip abroad.
Although you have filed your EB-5 petition on Form I-526, you still do not have a legal status in the U.S. until you obtain your conditional permanent residency. Once you do, you have a great deal of flexibility in terms of your travel outside of the United States. If you travel after your I-526 petition is approved, you would not have any way to return to the United States until you have filed an application for adjustment of status and you obtain advance parole, which can take approximately four months. At that time again you have some greater flexibility to travel outside of the U.S., although you should try to spend as much time in the U.S. as possible. Normally, once you obtain your conditional permanent residency, trips abroad for less than six months will not create a problem as long as you remember that you are resident of the U.S. and whatever you are doing abroad is temporary in nature, such as finishing up your studies or a job or some family matter that requires an extended visit abroad.
Once your I-526 petition is approved and if your priority date is current, you can apply for adjustment of status in the U.S. to lawful permanent resident. At this time, you can simultaneously file for a work permit and advance parole (which would allow you to travel during the adjustment pending period). Once you are approved for adjustment (which can take about a year), then you are a lawful conditional permanent resident. As lawful permanent resident, you have declared your "permanent residence" as the U.S.; therefore, any prolonged stays abroad (i.e. more than one year) would be an abandonment of permanent residency. If you do have plans to stay out of the U.S. for more than one year, you can file for a "re-entry permit," which declares/preserves your permanent resident intent in the U.S. Re-entry permits are granted in two-year increments.
If you have filed the I-526 and you are inside the U.S., you should not travel outside of the United States until after your I-485 is filed and you are approved for advanced parole (I-131) for travel. After your conditional residency is approved, you may travel in and out of the United States, as long as you do not stay outside of the U.S. for more than a year. The same is true when your permanent residency is granted.
Any conditional or permanent resident must spend six months per year in the USA. Travelwise, any country you visit you must comply with the requirements based on your citizenship, such as if you need a visa or do not need a visa to travel there.
If you are traveling for six months or less, you just use your valid passport (including any required visas, depending on countries visited), plus a green card. If you need to be away longer I recommend filing for a re-entry permit which allows an absence of up to two years initially. In any case, it is important to show why you are not abandoning your green card, so you need U.S. ties and are required to pay U.S. taxes on your worldwide income.
You should apply for a travel doc/advance parole (Form I-131) after you receive the conditional permanent residency. This will allow you to stay out of the U.S. for up to a year. You should, however, establish your permanent residence in the U.S. and have the intent to permanently reside in the U.S.
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