In case you win the USA DV Lottery, you have 6 months to enter US after obtaining the immigrant visa at your local embassy.

Lets say you enter US on your last day before your immigrant visa expires (which is a valid thing to do so) and then you start waiting for 45 days (as specified by USCIS) to receive your Green Card. What would happen if you must leave the US in that period because of private reasons? In that case, the status will be:

  • your immigrant visa is already expired
  • you still don't have your Green Card in your pocket

Would you be able to enter US again later with an expired immigrant visa in order to finish the process of becoming a permanent resident?

Can some friend/relative from US send you by mail your Green Card to your home country, so you can use it to enter US as a permanent resident?

Any pointers or resources regarding this situation will be greatly appreciated.

  • 2
    As you may have inferred from the answer, entering near the expiration date is not actually necessary. The visa ceases to be valid as an immigrant visa as soon as it is endorsed. Formerly, they'd give you a separate wet-ink stamp for the temporary I-551, but the effect was the same: your proof of LPR status was in your passport, valid for one year.
    – phoog
    Mar 18 '16 at 2:13
  • 4
    This is ultimately a question about documents necessary for travel, not really an expatriate question. Mar 18 '16 at 2:31
  • 1
    Unfortunately, some people would rather look for a reason to close a question rather than answer it. Mar 18 '16 at 16:41
  • @MichaelHampton I disagree. The OP is attempting to, or in the middle of the process of, immigrating to a new country, and therefor there may be special rules and procedures not known by, or relevant to a 'regular traveler.' If you feel strongly about it, perhaps you could make a meta post?
    – CGCampbell
    Mar 18 '16 at 18:34

According to http://armenia.usembassy.gov/using_your_visa2.html:

As soon as you enter the United States on your immigrant visa, you will become a Legal Permanent Resident, as evidenced by the I-551 stamp in your passport. Your I-551 Alien Registration Card (commonly referred to as a green card) will be sent via the mail to the address you listed on your immigrant visa application a few weeks after you enter the United States. However, for a period of one year your endorsed immigrant visa and entry stamp may serve as temporary proof of permanent residence. If necessary, you may leave the United States before you have received your green card, using your endorsed immigrant visa as evidence of your permanent legal status. After one year, Legal Permanent Residents must travel in and out of the United States with their foreign country passport and green card.

Meanwhile, Timatic tells us:

If the passport shows a stamp "processed for I-551 temporary evidence of lawful admittance for permanent residence valid until receipt of I-551 employment authorized", such stamp is to be considered Form I-551.

Make sure that your immigrant visa contains the wording "Upon endorsement serves as temporary I-551" (or similar). This means that once the visa is endorsed (stamped by the official at the border), it is a temporary Green Card (I-551) for one year.

However, as a practical matter, if you're traveling by air, it could be the case that airline representatives deny boarding to return to the US because they see the expired visa and do not understand the I-551 stamp. You could refer them to page 40 of the Carrier Information Guide for this case. Getting the Green Card by mail could simplify things, but it would also cause much greater complication if it gets lost in the mail. In the worst case, you would have to visit a US Embassy or Consulate overseas to get things straightened out.

Note that staying outside the United States for more than six months in a year, or for an entire year, could jeopardize your immigration status unless you've received permission from USCIS in advance.

It's also worth noting that the immigrant visa + stamp is not necessarily accepted by third countries that grant visa-free transit privileges to US Permanent Residents. If you need to transit one of these countries, not having your I-551 card may mean you have to get a transit visa.

  • 3
    This is in Timatic, so air carriers should not deny boarding. Of course that doesn't mean that the check-in agent will actually read Timatic correctly... Mar 18 '16 at 2:29
  • 1
    @MichaelHampton True, but a quick google indicates that being denied boarding is an actual problem people have had, and Timatic isn't exactly the easiest thing to read (US immigration policy deserves a lot of blame for making it so confusing of course). In any event, the safest thing to do would be not to travel until the I-551 arrives. Mar 18 '16 at 2:37
  • I read a few of those links. The first two both seem to be on Norwegian (the first one says it explicitly, and the second had a change of planes in Oslo). One suggested bringing a printout of the timatic text, and another suggested bringing a copy of the carrier information guide. If someone had both, I imagine it would be a very obtuse person indeed who would not recognize their right to enter the US.
    – phoog
    Mar 18 '16 at 4:05

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