SB-1 Visa — the Complete Guide

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • The SB-1 visa, or returning resident visa, allows lawful permanent residents and conditional residents to re-enter the U.S. after staying abroad for over two years due to uncontrollable circumstances.
  • To apply, one must meet specific qualifications, submit supporting documents, and undergo an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • The application process takes about 2 to 3 weeks, and required documents include proof of permanent residency, intention to return, and reasons for staying abroad.
  • The SB-1 visa facilitates the return of residents who have valid reasons for extended stays abroad.

Many people migrate to the United States for several reasons of their own. And once they are granted permanent residency, people are required by law to stay a given number of days a year to complete their citizenship applications’ requirements.

However, due to business, family matters, or any other reason, some of these people cannot stay in the country for that long. For such people, the United States government provides a different visa for when they come back. It’s called an SB-1 visa.

What Is An SB-1 Visa?

People categorized as lawful permanent residents in the United States are advised not to go out of the country for more than 12 months at any time. Doing so would result in their permanent residency being revoked. However, if you are among people who have to leave for more than 12 months but less than 24 months, you need to take a re-entry permit to come back into the country.

But if you are away from the United States for more than 24 months, you will have two options. The first is to apply for another permanent residency through a family petition or employer petition. The second option is to apply for the SB-1 visa.

An SB-1 visa allows a lawfully permanent resident and a conditional resident to resume their stay in the United States even after staying away from the country beyond two years. However, this option is only for those people that could not come back to the United States due to reasons beyond their control.

It will not apply to those who had chosen to stay out of the country based on their wish and will. The SB-1 Visa is also known as the returning resident visa. It is used by people who had to stay away due to health complications, lack of flights, or other reasons beyond their control. One must maintain several requirements to be eligible for an SB-1 Visa. This is not an extension of your permanent residency but rather a request to hold your status as a permanent resident.

Who Needs A Returning Resident Visa?

Only a select group of immigrants that have stayed beyond two years away from the united states at a stretch have any chance of applying for a returning resident visa. The qualifications for the same are as follows:

  • The applicant had a permanent residency when leaving the United States. If the person who didn’t even have a permanent residence tries to apply for it, then their application would be outrightly rejected. SB-1 visa is only required by those people who have had their permanent residency when leaving the United States.
  • The applicant departed the United States intending to return someday and has not abandoned that intention yet. The returning resident visa is only for those who duly wish to live in the United States for the remaining part of their lives. If the applicant had abandoned this will, then there is no need for that person to apply for an SB-1 Visa.
  • The applicant left the United States for temporary reasons and had every intention to return but could not due to reasons beyond their control and was forced to remain there. That means, even if a person intends to return to The United States of America, but chooses not to within the given time frame of a maximum of two years, for such person, the SB-1 visa will not be granted. Only those forced to stay abroad due to circumstances beyond their control can require the SB-1 Visa.

How To Apply For An SB-1 Visa

Application for the returning resident visa or the SB-1 visa is almost the same as any other immigrant visa you could apply for. It is advisable to apply at least three months in advance to your scheduled time for travel back into the country to make sure you have sufficient time to complete your visa processing before your journey back into the United States of America.

To apply for an SB-1 visa, one has to go to their nearest United States embassy and apply there. They will also have to submit supporting documents and their SB-1 application form. Once the submissions are made, their information will be checked and verified before the application goes further. This process is long and can take several days before you receive any communication from the US embassy at which you had applied for your SB-1 Visa.

After verification, you will be called to interview with the consulate officer and asked to answer some questions regarding your stay in the foreign country and your desire to return to the United States. Once the interview is done, the consulate officer will check for any additional information they may need and see if your answers are authentic for them to verify.

Once their job is done, your visa will be granted, and you will be able to resume your permanent residency in the United States of America. All of this process takes about 2 to 3 weeks of time.

Documents Required To Apply For A Returning Resident Visa

The following documents are needed for all applicants that are willing to apply for a returning resident visa:

  • The application to determine your returning resident status is generally known as form DS – 117.
  • Your old permanent resident card and form – 551 as proof of your permanent residency.
  • If you have any re-entry permits, that document would be handy.
  • Documents such as airline tickets to prove travel outside of the United States.
  • Documentary proof of your intention to go back to the United States such as tax records, credit card bills, family ties, etc.
  • Any documentary proof that your stay outside the US was beyond your control, such as medical records, occupation with a US enterprise requirement, accompanying a US resident, and more.

SB-1 Visa Appointment And Interview

Once you have completed the submission of the above documents, you are required to book an appointment to this effect so that a consulate officer can determine the status of your SB-1 Visa application. Usually, you will have to go to your consulate’s website and book your appointment date and time once you have submitted your documents. However, it is advisable to verify the same embassy or the consulate you have applied to.

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Final Thoughts

The SB-1 visa is for those permanent residents that have been away from the United States of America for more than two years at a stretch due to reasons beyond their control. Upon being granted this visa, one can return to the United States and continue their permanent residency from then on. The time to complete the entire process for this visa is around 2 to 3 weeks, in most cases almost always.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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