Planning your Trip to the Caribbean
November 2010 - By Shahzad Ahmed with NeJame Law
Traveling to the Caribbean is as simple as buying an airline or a cruise ticket for most. But before packing your bags, be prepared for all the immigration requirements. Even if you are a U.S. citizen, there could be some surprises along the way. So let's look at what you need to be prepared for.
For U.S. Citizens
Due to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, U.S. citizens traveling to the Caribbean must carry a U.S. passport book or card.
In addition, before making their trip, citizens should make themselves aware of any preparations suggested by the U.S. Department of State. The Department of State publishes any suggestions or warnings at: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings.html
For Lawful Permanent Residents
For non-citizens who are lawful permanent residents of the United States, there are various other considerations. First, as a general rule, permanent residents should not depart the U.S. for more than 6 months. Otherwise, the Department of Homeland Security may deem their residence to be abandoned. If you do plan on being absent for a longer period of time, consult with an experienced immigration attorney about obtaining a re-entry permit.
Second, permanent residents should make sure that the length of their trip will not impact their eligibility for naturalization. Generally, an applicant for naturalization must be physically present in the U.S. for two and a half years (if applying based on 5 years of residence); or one and a half year (if applying based on 3 years of residence). So, it is important to calculate what impact, if any, the length of departure would have on the continuity of residence or physical presence.
Third, a non-U.S. citizen who has been convicted of certain types of crimes may face deportation charges upon returning to the U.S. This may happen even if the person was able to enter previously without any consequences. Again, it would be important to consult with an attorney before departing the U.S.
People who are in violation of their immigration status, should consider the potential consequences of their departure. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, if someone has not been in authorized stay for 180 days, then his departure would trigger a 3-year bar. Anyone who departs after 365 days of unauthorized stay would be barred from returning for 10 years. Some exceptions do apply. Given the serious consequences of these bars, it would be wise for anyone who may be affected by these bars to seek professional advice.
Last, those who are in non-immigrant status (temporary status) in the U.S., whether it is for tourism, business or employment, may not be able to return if they do not possess an unexpired visa. Often, we confuse our immigration "status" with a "visa." There is a distinction between the two. The visa allows one to come to the U.S. The status determines for how long the person may remain here. So for example, a visitor may have changed his status to an L-1 visa (as an intracompany transferee for her foreign business). However, if the L-1 status holder travels abroad, she will not be able to return to the U.S., unless she has an unexpired L-1 visa or another visa.
Accordingly, before traveling to the Caribbean, be prepared. Too many members of the community run into unexpected immigration problems when traveling. Knowing the immigration requirements can prevent problems and pave the way for a successful trip.
The NeJame Law Firm extends its deepest sympathies for all Haitians affected by the recent tragedy in Haiti. Our firm is offering community service assistance in filing for TPS for those individuals who lack the financial means, or for a nominal fee for those who do have the means. Feel free to contact our firm for any information about the TPS program.