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My mother-in-law visited me and my wife last year by obtaining her green card. She also got her social security number. She came to the USA in June 2017 and left back to her home country, Iraq, inNovember 2017. Her paperwork says she is allowed to visit the US with her green card as long as she doesn't stay more than, I think it's mentioned a year, in her home country.

She wanted to come see us again and was wondering if any changes have been made since she last left (November 2017). Is there any issue with her visiting us? I am afraid that she gets all the way here and she is told to go back to her home country (north Iraq).

I did read this:

A Green Card is valid for readmission to the United States after a trip abroad if you do not leave for longer than 1 year. If your trip will last longer than 1 year, a reentry permit is needed.

From the USCIS site: https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/after-green-card-granted#Reminders

Since she left in November 2017 and we are in August 2018, this would mean she is allowed to come to the US without further complications or forms, correct? If on the other hand we were in December 2018 right now she would then have to apply for reentry it appears.

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    Someone with a green card isn't really supposed to be visiting the US; they're supposed to be residing in the US. If she keeps this up, she may find herself losing her permanent residence because of a lack of intent to reside in the US. Did she file an income tax return for 2017? – phoog Aug 21 '18 at 18:20
  • Phoog she plans to stay here. Without going into too much info she lost her husband and had to go back to take care of things. Thanks though – JonH Aug 21 '18 at 18:30
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    You're welcome. With the circumstances as you have clarified them, it would probably be smoother to avoid the word "visit" in relation to the US. It could prompt an immigration officer to investigate whether she has abandoned her permanent residence. If she needs to return to Iraq and remain there for another long period, especially if it might be over a year, she may want to consider an I-131. She needs to get it before she leaves the US (see International Travel as a Permanent Resident). – phoog Aug 21 '18 at 18:38
  • @phoog - yup I understand regarding the I-131. Plan was to resolve the outstanding issues she has (she has some of her family there and a house) and then come back to the US to reside. Will keep it in mind. I don't know a single person who wouldn't want to live in the USA coming from a country devastated like that. – JonH Aug 21 '18 at 18:42
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There are two separate issues: 1) the documentary requirements for a returning resident, and 2) not abandoning residency.

The documentary requirements for a returning resident to enter the US is pretty clear. A green card (I-551) or equivalent is valid for entry after an absence of less than one year. A Re-entry Permit is valid for entry during the validity of the Re-entry Permit, which is issued for two years. An SB-1 returning resident visa is also valid for entry during its validity. She clearly meets the documentary requirements for entry.

However, to come back as a permanent resident she needs to have not abandoned residency, and that is a subjective determination that looks at many factors, not just length of time outside the US. Other things that might be considered include the pattern of her trips, whether she filed US tax returns, whether she maintained access to a home in the US that she intended to return to, whether she had family in the US that she intended to return to, whether her reason for being outside the US had a definite end date or was open-ended, whether she was prevented from returning earlier, etc.

Meeting the documentary requirements of entry does not mean that she hasn't abandoned residence. If someone repeatedly leaves the US for under one year and comes to the US for a few days and then repeats, without a permanent home in the US, they would almost certainly be determined to have abandoned residence. No length of absence, no matter how short, can absolutely guarantee that the person won't be found to have abandoned residence. Even having a Re-entry Permit doesn't mean that she hasn't abandoned residence (having a Re-entry Permit prevents a finding of abandonment due to the length of time outside the US; but it does not preclude a finding of abandonment due to other factors).

Conversely, not meeting the documentary requirements does not mean she cannot return to the US. If she returns with a green card after an absence of more than one year, the officer at entry (or the immigration judge in removal proceedings) still has the discretionary power to let her in anyway if they feels she hasn't abandoned residence.

So what really matters is whether she has abandoned residence. And unfortunately there is never a clear answer to that question because it looks at many factors and is subjective. I would say that based on what you said, she is likely okay, since she did stay in the US for a few months before leaving, so it's not an obvious case of someone hardly staying in the US at all; and it's the first time she has been away, so they are usually more lenient. She should carry evidence of her ties to the US just in case she is asked about it.

  • In addition to the factors you cite suggesting that she has not abandoned residence, there is the fact revealed in a comment that the length of her absence was connected to the loss of her husband. On the other hand, if she speaks of "visiting" the US, as does the question, that could prompt a harder look at the circumstances than otherwise might be expected. – phoog Aug 23 '18 at 18:20
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From the information you have provided, it sounds like she should be fine. If she has violated any of the terms of the green card or become a security risk, she could be denied. Further, as her home country is Iraq, if DHS (or another agency) decides/attempts to institute a wide travel ban, then she could also be denied entry.

  • Is there a list of countries that are currently banned to come to the USA? – JonH Aug 21 '18 at 15:46
  • @JonH that is probably a better question for Travel.SE. As far as I know, none of the versions of the travel ban have affected green card holders, but things have been messy and could change at any moment. – StrongBad Aug 21 '18 at 15:47
  • I agree - thanks for your input - seems to put some reassurance into my post and I'll keep my fingers crossed. Appreciate your time. – JonH Aug 21 '18 at 15:53

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