Lawful permanent residents (LPR) or Conditional residents (CR) who have remained outside the US for more than one year, or beyond the validity period of a Re-entry Permit, have to get a new immigrant visa to enter the US to resume permanent residence. Returning resident special immigrant visas can be issued to a green card holders who remained outside the US due to circumstances beyond their control.
If you are an LPR not able to return to the US within the one year traveling validity period of the green card or the two years validity of a Re-entry Permit, you may still be eligible for a return visa. You have to apply at the nearest US Embassy or Consulate for a Returning Resident (SB-1) immigrant visa.
If your application for return visa is approved, an immigrant visa petition need not be filed on your behalf. You will be interviewed for both your application for returning resident status, and later for the immigrant visa. A return visa applicant has to establish eligibility for an immigrant visa and have a medical examination. He/She has to pay both visa processing fees and medical fees.
Spouses and children of a member of the US Armed Forces or of a civilian employee of the US Government stationed abroad on official orders can use their green card to enter the US even if it has expired. Such persons not need a return visa (SB-1) as long as they have not abandoned their LPR status and their spouse or parent is returning to the US.
To qualify for a return visa, you will have to prove that you:
were in lawful permanent resident status at the time of departure from the US
left the US with the intention of returning and have not abandoned this intention; and
are returning to the US from a temporary visit abroad and, if the stay abroad was protracted, this was caused by inevitable reasons beyond your control for which you were not responsible.
You should submit the following forms and documents to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will apply:
a completed Application to Determine Returning Resident Status, Form DS-117
your Permanent Resident Card
Your Re-entry Permit (if available)
You must also submit certain supporting documents. A Consular Officer will review your application and supporting documents to check if you meet the criteria for SB-1 status. If you meet the criteria, you must be eligible for the immigrant visa in all other respects in order to get a SB-1 visa.
The Embassy or Consulate will provide you with specific instructions regarding further processing for your SB-1 visa. Those instructions may vary by Embassy or Consulate,
After reviewing, if the consular officer finds that you do not meet the criteria for a SB-1 visa on the grounds that you have abandoned or relinquished your residence in the US, it may or may not be possible to obtain a non immigrant visa depending on whether you have established a residence abroad to which you will return.
If you are not able to submit adequate and convincing evidence of compelling ties abroad, you will have to apply for an immigrant visa on the same basis and under the same category by which you immigrated before.
If you are an LPR not able to return to the US within the one year traveling validity period of the green card or the two years validity of a Re-entry Permit, you may still be eligible for a return visa.