Ask the Consul – February 2021

Question: I have been a green card holder for many years and visit T&T for a few months each year. I arrived in March 2020 to attend to some family matters. I have been unable to return home due to the extended border closure. It’s almost one year and I’m very concerned about my status. Will I be able to return to the United States?

Answer: In most cases, U.S. Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), commonly called ‘green card holders,’ received their immigrant visa because a U.S. citizen or U.S. LPR family member filed a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on their behalf. If the petition is approved and the visa is granted, immigrants then travel to the United States and apply to USCIS to receive their Legal Permanent Resident card – otherwise known as the famous green card. This card gives immigrants the right to live and work in the United States and also eventually gain citizenship.

Generally, though, green card holders maintain strong ties to their country of origin, and frequently have need to return for family, business or other reasons, sometimes for extended periods of time.

For this reason, green card holders should be aware that under U.S. immigration law, when a U.S. LPR remains abroad for more than one year without permission from USCIS, he or she is generally considered to have abandoned U.S. residency, and is therefore subject to loss of residency status.

Unfortunately, many green card holders entered Trinidad and Tobago in 2020 or earlier expecting to return to their lives in the United States. However, perhaps due to the Trinidad and Tobago border closure, cessation of commercial air travel, or for health or family reasons, they were not able to return to the United States as planned within the required one-year timeframe. Such LPRs are indeed now at risk of losing their residency status.

Fortunately, the law contains accommodations that allow green card holders to apply to a U.S. Embassy Consular Section to demonstrate to a consular official that they never intended to abandon their LPR status and that their failure to return as planned was for reasons beyond their control. If approved, these ‘returning residents,’ as they are called, are given another document similar to a visa which enables them to return to the United States and apply again to USCIS to regain their residency status.

The good news for returning residents is that the U.S. Embassy is processing these types of applications under current COVID-19 conditions. Therefore, green card holders who have already lost or soon will be losing their LPR status are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the U.S. Embassy for a returning-resident application and interview.

To schedule this appointment, returning residents should visit https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-tt/iv/ . At this site, applicants can select a date and time for their visa appointment, and also review the detailed instructions and checklist of required documents, including the application. Please note that a fee, payable at the U.S. Embassy, will be required at the interview.

In some instances, green card holders have NOT been out of the United States for more than one year, but their LPR cards may have expired or been lost, stolen, or damaged. In these cases, LPRs can apply for a boarding foil. This is a limited-validity document, also similar to a visa, that allows the traveler up to 30 days to return to the United States and apply for another LPR card. Boarding foils cannot be issued if a green card holder is out of the United States for more than one year; in such cases, the individual must go through the process used for returning residents. Happily for LPRs, the U.S. Embassy is also accepting appointments for boarding foil applicants.

If you plan to request a boarding foil, you must first pay a fee online on the www.uscis.gov. You also must register online at https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-tt/iv/ to schedule an appointment to apply for the boarding foil before appearing in person at the U.S. Embassy for a consular interview.

As always, consular and USCIS fees are non-refundable, even if an application is refused. Especially with respect to boarding foil appointments, plan your appointment, payment and travel carefully in order to ensure the foil won’t expire before you are able to travel under current restricted conditions. The fee must be paid for each returning resident and boarding foil application.

If you require additional assistance, please email consularpos@state.gov. You also may visit https//tt.usembassy.gov and www.uscis.gov.

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