When you get a Green Card in the U.S, you are under the status of a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or a Conditional Resident (CR) depending on the type of visa that you have. In order to maintain this status, you will have to live in the U.S for some time before you can apply for the citizenship.
Staying in the U.S does not mean that you are not allowed to travel abroad anywhere. However, if you leave the country for a short or temporary visit to another country, you are expected to return within one year for your Green Card to be valid. Additionally, you could also return within two years while your Re-entry Permit is still valid. If you do not enter the U.S within these time periods, then you will lose your status as an LPR or CR with a Green Card and will need to get another immigrant visa.
Because this could potentially happen and the person cannot return to the U.S for reasons beyond their control, the U.S has created the Returning Resident Visa or SB-1 visa for those who want to regain their immigrant status.
This article will go through what the SB-1 visa is, its requirements, how to apply for it, and other relevant details.
What is the SB-1 visa?
The SB-1 visa is given to those people who have previously held a US immigrant visa or Green Card. They traveled to a different country for a temporary visit, but due to reasons beyond their control or knowledge, they could not return to the U.S within one or two years and lost their immigration status.
The Green Cards are valid for one year, so you must return from your travels to the U.S within that period of time. If you know that you will be staying abroad for more than one year, you must apply for a Re-entry Permit to the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The Re-entry Permit is valid for two years, so you must return within that time. If you do not return, then you will have to apply for the SB-1 visa.
Examples of reasons which qualify as beyond a person’s control and that prevent them from returning to the U.S could be:
- A sudden illness or disease which does not permit travel
- A pregnancy where the doctor does not advise traveling
- A family dispute during which your travel documents are withheld from you
- You need permission to leave the country and you are not able to get it, etc.
The SB-1 visa is beneficial because instead of applying for the immigrant visa status from the beginning, the applicant only applies for it as a regular visa. This means that the procedures of petitioning to USCIS or the Department of State or Homeland Security are eliminated and the waiting and processing times are shorter.
All those who have been outside the U.S for more than two years must apply for an SB-1 visa if they want to continue living in the U.S. There are however a few who do not need the SB-1 visa. These are:
- Spouse and children of a member of the U.S Armed Forces
- Civilian employees of the U.S government stationed abroad
These two groups can re-enter the U.S even if their status has expired and do not need to get an SB-1 visa to renew their immigration status.
If after you have been out of the U.S for one or two years, you try to return without renewing your visa and getting an SB-1 visa, the officials at the U.S port of entry might not allow you to enter. This is because those who stay in another country besides the U.S for such a long time are considered to have abandoned their status. Abandoning your status means that you are voluntarily giving up your immigration status and do not want to return to the U.S as an immigrant. You can still get U.S non-immigrant visas though, but you will not be able to enjoy the benefits of a legal immigrant in the U.S.
In order to be allowed entry into the U.S, you must get the SB-1 visa. Even if port of entry authorities allow you to enter the U.S with an expired immigration visa, months later you might receive the order to leave the U.S because you abandoned your visa. To avoid this, start the process of getting the SB-1 visa immediately when you know you will return to the U.S.
What are the requirements for the SB-1 visa?
Not all those who leave the U.S for one or two years are eligible to get the SB-1 visa. In order to be allowed to apply and get this visa, these are the conditions that you must fulfill. You must prove that:
- You were a lawful permanent resident with a legal status in the U.S before you departed for your trip
- You had intentions to return to the U.S after your temporary stay and still have the intention to stay in the U.S.
- Your stay abroad was temporary and you could not return due to reasons beyond your control
- You are eligible to maintain an immigrant visa that you had before your temporary stay abroad
If you fulfill all these conditions and can prove them, then you are eligible for the SB-1 visa and can start your application process.
How to apply for the SB-1 visa?
Applying for the SB-1 visa is a shorter and less complicated process than applying for an immigrant visa from the beginning. Since you have had an immigrant visa before, you will not need to have an employee or family member issue a petition, but will only go through the U.S Embassy where you are currently located.
In order to have your visa processed, it is best to notify the U.S Embassy that you need an SB-1 visa three months before you intend to travel to the U.S. However, if you cannot do that, then you must apply as soon as it is possible. The steps to apply for the SB-1 visa are as follows:
- File Form DS-117, Application to Determine Returning Resident Status
- Submit Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card or Green Card which you had before you traveled outside the U.S.
- Submit your Re-entry Permit if you have one
- Submit supporting documents such as:
- Dates of planned travel outside the U.S such as your airline ticket or passport stamp
- Proof of intention to return such as employment offer, tax returns, pay slips, etc.
- Proof that you stayed outside the U.S for reasons beyond your control such as medical documents, etc.
After the U.S Embassy reviews your documents, it is up to them to decide whether you qualify to apply for the SB-1 visa. If you are eligible, you will then proceed with the following steps:
- Submit Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application which you have filed before during your initial immigrant visa application.
- Conduct a medical examination with a licensed doctor
- Submit supporting documents:
- Your Form DS-260 confirmation page
- The signed medical documents
- Your passport
- Two photographs which are according to the US Visa Photo Requirements
- Other documents as per the instructions of the U.S Embassy where you are applying
What are the SB-1 visa fees?
In order to have your application for the SB-1 visa processed by the U.S Embassy you have to make payments for the fees. The required fees are as follows:
- The Form DS-117 filing fee
- The Form DS-260 processing fee
- Medical examination fees
- Other fees to obtain and/or translate supporting documents
The fees must be paid in order for your application to be valid. If you just submit the application without paying, it will not be taken into consideration by the U.S Embassy.
How long is the SB-1 visa processing time?
The SB-1 visa processing time depends on the workload of the U.S Embassy where you are applying from. In general however, it take 3 to 6 months for your application to be completed and for them to notify you whether you have gotten the SB-1 visa or not.
What if my SB-1 visa is denied?
The U.S Embassy decides whether you are eligible for the SB-1 visa based on the documents and evidence you submit to them. If for whatever reason, they decide that you do not qualify for the visa they will notify you to either submit additional documents or that you simply cannot get a returning resident visa.
In this case, you will not be allowed to enter the U.S again without another valid visa. Your options are then to try and apply for a U.S immigrant visa from the beginning by starting the petitioning process and submitting the documentation or apply for a U.S non-immigrant visa for a temporary visit or stay in the U.S.
If you decide to apply for a non-immigrant visa, you will then have to prove that you intend to return to your home country when your visa expires or obtain a dual intent visa which allows you to apply for permanent residence.