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The SB1, Returning Resident immigrant visa allows individuals who live in the United States under lawful permanent resident (LPR) status or conditional resident (CR) status to travel outside the United States for a period of time without forfeiting residency status. Both LPR’s and CR’s are types of U.S. Green Card holders. The SB1 visa becomes necessary when a Green Card holder leaves the United States for over one or two years, because doing so indicates to the U.S. government that the Green Card holder intends to abandon his or her Green Card.
Who Needs the SB1 Visa?
When a Green Card holder leaves the United States and attempts to return, the U.S. government evaluates whether or not the Green Card holder intends to make the United States his or her permanent home. If a Green Card holder travels abroad for long periods of time, it can indicate to the U.S. government that the Green Card holder did not intend to make the United States his or her permanent home. The SB1 visa is necessary for Green Card holders who are travelling for a prolonged period that extends beyond the one year of travel permitted under their Green Card, or the two years of travel permitted under a Re-Entry Permit.
Visits Abroad Under One Year
Generally, Green Card holders who travel abroad and are absent from the United States for less than one year do not need a SB1 visa or a Re-Entry Permit in order to return to the United States. A Green Card holder can return to the United States from travel lasting under one year by presenting his or her Green Card identification document, passport, residency cards, and other identifying documents at a port of entry.
Visits Abroad Over One Year, But Under Two Years
Typically, Green Card holders who leave the United States cannot stay abroad for longer than one year without being deemed to have abandoned his or her Green Card. However, Green Card holders can apply for a Re-Entry Permit before they leave the United States. A Re-Entry Permit allows Green Card holders to stay outside the United States for two years without being deemed to have abandoned his or her Green Card status. In order to obtain a Re-Entry Permit, a Green Card holder must file Form I-131, Application for Travel.
Visits Abroad Over Two Years
Even when a Green Card holder obtains a Re-Entry Permit before leaving the United States, he or she must return to the United States within two years in order to be permitted entry. If a Green Card holder with a Re-Entry Permit is outside the United States for longer than two years because of reasons or events beyond his or her control, a SB1 visa may be available for re-entry.
Exception for Families of Armed Forces and Government Employees
Though most Green Card holders cannot return to the United States after more than two years without obtaining a SB1 visa, certain Green Card holders are permitted to return to the United States after two years without a SB1 visa.
These two groups of Green Card holders can travel abroad for over two years without obtaining a SB1 visa upon return:
- The spouse or children of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces;
- Civilian employees of the U.S. government and are stationed abroad
Who Qualifies for the SB1 Visa?
To qualify for the SB1 visa when, an individual must:
- Have been a lawful permanent resident or conditional resident at the time of departure from the United States;
- Have left the United States with the intention of returning and continues to hold this intention;
- Be returning to the U.S. from a temporary visit abroad:
- Be able to show that the visit abroad was prolonged for reasons or events that were not within the Green Card holder’s control.
When a Green Card holder applies for the SB1 visa, it is his or her responsibility to prove to a U.S. Consular Officer that the Green Card holder meets these qualifications.
What is the Process to Obtain a SB1 Visa?
The process to obtain a SB1 visa is fairly straightforward. It is important to note, however, that different U.S. Embassies and Consulates may have different requirements at various points throughout the process. Thus, applicants for the SB1 visa should review any specific instructions provided by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate they apply with.
Step One: Contact U.S. Embassy or Consulate Nearest to Applicant
Individuals who need to apply for a SB1 visa must first contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest to them at least three months in advance of the applicant’s intended travel back to the United States. It is through the U.S. Embassy or Consulate that the applicant will sit for an interview and submit required documentation. By contacting the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, an applicant can also become familiarized with any specific procedural requirements that the U.S. Embassy or Consulate imposes.
Step Two: Submit Required Documentation with U.S. Embassy or Consulate
After connecting with the U.S. Consulate or Embassy, the applicant must submit all required documentation to the same U.S. Consulate or Embassy. The required documentation is necessary to prove the applicants travel history, eligibility for the SB1 visa, and their underlying immigrant visa status.
The following forms and documents are required when applying for the SB1 visa:
- Completed Form DS-117, Application to Determine Returning Resident Status;
- Applicant’s Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card;
- Applicant’s Re-Entry Permit, if available
Other documents must also be submitted that show:
- The applicant’s dates of travel outside of the United States, such as airline tickets or passport stamps;
- Proof of the applicant’s ties to the United States and his or her intention to return, such as tax returns and evidence of family, social, or economic ties to the United States;
- Proof that the applicant’s prolonged visit outside the United States was for reasons beyond the applicant’s control, such as medical or employment reasons.
Step Three: Attend Medical Examination
After submitting all required documentation, a SB1 visa applicant must sit for a medical examination. This is a required step before the applicant can sit for an interview with a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate near them. For questions or specific questions about the medical examination, the applicant should connect with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where he or she is applying. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate will provide instructions on where to receive a medical appointment and what is required of the medical examination, including any necessary vaccinations.
Step Four: Interview at U.S. Embassy or Consulate
All SB1 applicants must sit for an interview with a U.S. Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where they apply. At the interview, the applicant must follow any specific requirements provided by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate and must submit the following documentation:
- Form DS-260, Immigrant and Alien Registration Application;
- Applicant’s original passport;
- Two photographs of applicant that meet the Department of State’s photo requirements;
- Any civil documents requested by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
How Much Does it Cost to Get a SB1 Visa?
The processing fee for Form DS-117 is $180, and the processing fee for Form DS-260 is $325. A SB1 applicant will have additional costs associated with the medical examination and required vaccinations.