If your immigrant visa was approved and you received your passport with the visa stamp in place, then congratulations, you are almost a permanent resident.
As described by most embassy websites, once you have received your immigrant visa, you must enter the United States within the timeframe specified on the visa (usually 6 months) to obtain an alien registration receipt or "green" card (Form I-151 or I-551) that will allow you to live and work in the United States. You must also make sure to pay the USCIS Immigrant Fee prior to entering the U.S. as it is required to process and send you the alien registration card (green card).
At the port of entry DHS officials will assign you an "alien number." They will stamp your passport with this number and make a notation that you are registered for a green card. It normally takes several weeks to months for DHS to process and send the alien registration card (Green Card) to you.
In the interim, the passport stamp (I-551), valid for a year, permits employment and travel as you await your green card to arrive. You may depart and return to the U.S. before you receive the alien registration receipt card, as long as the DHS stamp in your passport has not expired.
If you wish to leave the U.S. and your stamp has expired and you have not yet received your alien card, you should contact DHS in the U.S. before departure to obtain permission to return to the U.S. You may be able to obtain a new stamp at your local USCIS office or at a port of entry prior to leaving.
Most importantly, if, in the future, you plan to live outside the U.S. for more than 12 months, you must apply for a re-entry permit (Form I-131) in the U.S. BEFORE departure. The maximum validity of this document is two years but may be renewed. If the relocation is permanent, USCIS may find that you have abandoned your permanent resident status and you may not be allowed entrance when returning after a lengthy absence.
Without a re-entry permit, any absence from the U.S. of 12 months or longer, or any residence established outside the U.S., may be considered grounds for loss of permanent resident status. (See previous blog on Re-entry permits for more details).
If your permanent residence card is a conditional one (valid for only two years), then you will have to ensure that you file for Removal of Conditions prior to the expiration of your green card.
As a permanent resident, you will enjoy many of the rights as U.S. citizens but not all. As such, should you violate your status as a green card holder or be found inadmissible upon re-entry, you may face deportation or denied entry.
The Law Offices of Joumana Kayrouz offer a free telephone consultation regarding any immigration issue. Please contact us at (248)557-3645 for your free consultation or click here to schedule a consultation online.