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What is a returning resident visa?

Many permanent residents and conditional residents leave America for a variety of reasons. Common reasons include work, spending time with relatives, and vacations. These permanent residents (LPRs) and conditional residents (CR) need to be careful how long they stay outside the United States.

If they stay more than a year or beyond their re-entry permit validity period, they will need to obtain a new immigrant visit in order to return. The COVID-19 pandemic is complicating the return timeline for many residents due to quarantines and general restrictions on reentry to America from certain countries that are considered high-risk for the disease.

According to the US State Department, the US visa laws do provide for a “returning resident special immigrant visa” for an LPR who stayed outside of America for more than one year – due to circumstances beyond their control.

The Returning Resident Visa is also called an SB-1 visa. It’s used if you’ve been outside America for more than one year, you don’t have a re-entry permit, or your re-entry permit date has expired. Generally, if your re-entry permits permit people with green cards (LPR status) to stay outside America for up to two years.

If you’ve been outside the US for less than one year, your Permanent Resident Card should allow you to reenter the US. LPRs and CRs, according to, who leave the US should obtain a re-entry permit through Form I-131.

To obtain the SB-1 visa, you need to submit the SB-1 from the country where you are located – normally, through the US embassy in that country. Applicants for the SB-1 visa will be interviewed, will need to have a medical exam, and will need to pay processing fees and medical fees. LPR applicants for SB-1 visas must show:

  • You were an LPR when they left the US
  • You intended to return to the US when you left and you didn’t “abandon” your status
  • You’re not otherwise ineligible for a US visa
  • You can provide evidence explaining your absence beyond the period permitted (one year unless you have a permit)
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What are some of the reasons your stay beyond one year or the expired permit period may be considered legitimate?

Some of the possible explanations that show your stay was beyond your control include:

  • You became severely ill and couldn’t travel. For example, you contracted COVID-19 while abroad
  • You became pregnant and couldn’t travel due to the pregnancy
  • Your passport and other necessary documents, according to Stilt, “were withheld because of a family dispute”
  • The country where you are located won’t permit you to leave

The need to stay beyond the permitted time limits may also be justified if the overstay was required for your employment.

passport boarding travel

What documents do you need to apply for an SB-1 visa?

Applicants for a returning resident visa will need to have the following documents, among others, ready before they apply at the US embassy:

  • You must complete Form DS-117.
  • Your permanent resident card. Form I-551.
  • Your re-entry permit – provided you have one
    • In addition, you should also have the following documents ready:
    • The dates you traveled outside the US (along with airline tickets and passport stamps)
    • Travel documents
    • Recent photographs – sized at 2×2 inches
    • Tax returns and other documents (such as deeds and proof of family connections in the US) to prove your relationship to the US
  • Proof supporting your reasons why staying abroad beyond the permitted time limits was beyond your control – such as a medical report.

According to the US State Department, spouses and children of US Armed Forces of Civilian employees of the US government who are stationed abroad can use their permanent resident card – even if it’s expired – provided they haven’t abandoned their LPR status and your spouse/parent is returning to the US.

Muslim woman near american embassy

How long does it take to get a returning resident visa?

To apply for the Returning Resident Visa (SB-1) visa, you’ll need to contact your nearest US embassy or consulate – at least three months in advance – if possible. You’ll normally need three months’ time to process the visa.

How to apply for a returning resident visa?

You will be required to attend an interview at the embassy or consulate. You can review the instructions by country at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will apply.

A consular officer will review your application and documentation to determine your eligibility. If you meet the SB-1 requirements, you must, according to the State Department, also be “eligible for the immigrant visa in all other respects.”

Applicants should consult with an experienced immigration lawyer to help ensure they process the application correctly, have all the correct supporting documents, and understand the additional requirements such as what happens at the interview. The application does need to be filed in person. SB-1 visas cannot be filed online.

In addition to the interview, applicants need to submit DS-260 which authorizes the medical examination. This form is completed online. The physicians will check your health and your vaccination status.

Once the application is approved, you should be issued a new I-551 passport – which permits you to travel back to the US.

medical nurse

What are the required fees for a Return Resident Visa?

According to the US Department of State fee schedule website, the cost of an SB-1 return resident visa application is currently $205. If an applicant is approved for the SB-1 status, there will be additional fees for:

  • The Form DS-260 application processing fee
  • The medical examination
  • Any necessary vaccinations

You may also have additional costs if you use a translation service. You’ll have to make arrangements to pay your immigration lawyer.

denied sign

What happens if your SB-1 Return Resident Visa application is not approved?

The consular officer may deny your application. If a denial happens, you may be able to apply for a new nonimmigrant visa – depending on whether you’ve established residency in a new foreign country. Normally, people who are denied the SB-1 visa because they stayed out of the US for too long reapply for a new visa based on the same category for which they were originally approved for an immigrant visa.

If your SB-1 application is denied, you may be given additional time to submit missing documents. Otherwise, you’ll have to go the new immigrant visa route.

woman walking on pathway

What happens if you try to reenter the US without the SB-1 Return Resident Visa?

If you try to reenter the US without your SBI- Returning Resident Visa, then the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has the discretion whether to admit you or whether to deem that you have abandoned your permanent resident status.

You will then likely be given the choice to either return home immediately or be placed in removal proceedings – where a judge will decide your fate. This is a very risky step. It’s best to obtain the SB-1 visa with the help of an experienced immigration lawyer.

LPRs should also keep in mind that if you’ve been outside the United States for between six months and one year, there’s a presumption you disrupted your continuous residency requirement for purposes of naturalization.

For help obtaining a returning resident visa, call Herman Legal Group at +1-216-696-6170 or complete our contact form to speak with us

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