What is the SB-1 visa?
The SB-1 visa is granted to those who have previously held a US immigrant visa or Green Card. They have traveled to another country for a temporary visit, but for reasons beyond their control or control, have been unable to return to the United States within a year or two and have lost their immigration status.
Green Cards are valid for one year, so you must return from your travels to the United States within that time period. If you know you will be abroad for more than one year, you must apply for a re-entry permit from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The re-entry permit is valid for two years, so you must return within this period. If you do not return, you will need to apply for the SB-1 visa.
Examples of reasons beyond a person’s control that prevent them from returning to the United States might include:
- A sudden illness or an illness that does not allow travel
- A pregnancy in which the doctor advises against travel
- A family dispute in which you are denied travel documents
- You need permission to leave the country and are unable to obtain it, etc.
The SB-1 visa is advantageous because instead of applying for immigrant visa status right from the start, the applicant only requests it as a regular visa. This means that petition processes with USCIS or the Department of State or Homeland Security are eliminated and wait and processing times are shorter.
Anyone who has been outside the United States for more than two years must apply for an SB-1 visa if they want to continue living in the United States. However, there are some who do not need the SB-1 visa. These are:
- Spouse and children of a member of the U.S. military
- Civilian employees of the United States government stationed abroad
- These two groups can re-enter the United States even if their status has expired and do not need to obtain an SB-1 visa to renew their immigration status.
If after being outside the United States for a year or two, you try to return without renewing your visa and obtain an SB-1 visa, officials at the port of entry into the United States may not allow you to enter. This is because those who remain in another country besides the United States for such a long period are considered to have abandoned their status. Abandoning your status means that you voluntarily renounce your immigration status and do not want to return to the United States as an immigrant. You can still obtain US nonimmigrant visas, but you will not be able to enjoy the benefits of a legal immigrant in the United States.
To enter the United States you must obtain the SB-1 visa. Even if authorities at your port of entry allow you to enter the United States with an expired immigrant visa, months later you may be ordered to leave the United States because you abandoned your visa. To avoid this, start the process of obtaining your SB-1 visa immediately when you know you will be returning to the United States.
What are the requirements for the SB-1 visa?
Not everyone who leaves the United States for a year or two is eligible to obtain the SB-1 visa. In order to apply for and obtain this visa, these are the conditions you must meet. You must demonstrate that:
- You were a lawful permanent resident with legal status in the United States before you left on your trip
- You intended to return to the United States after your temporary stay and still intend to remain in the United States.
- Your stay abroad was temporary and you could not return for reasons beyond your control
- You are entitled to maintain an immigrant visa that you had before your temporary stay abroad
- If you meet all these conditions and can prove them, then you are eligible for the SB-1 visa and can begin the 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 start. Since you already had an immigrant visa, you will not need a dependent or family member to petition, but will only need to go through the US Embassy where you are currently located.
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 want to travel to the United States. However, if you are unable to do so, you must apply as soon as possible. The steps to apply for the SB-1 visa are as follows:
- File Form DS-117, Application to Determine Returning Resident Status
- Submit the Form I-551, permanent resident card, or green card that you had before traveling outside the United States.
- Present your re-entry permit if you have one
- Send supporting documents such as:
- Planned travel dates outside the United States, such as your plane ticket or passport stamp
- Proof of intent to return such as job offers, tax returns, pay stubs, etc.
- Proof that you remained outside the United States for reasons beyond your control, such as medical documents, etc.
After the US Embassy reviews your documents, it is up to them to decide whether you are eligible to apply for the SB-1 visa. If you are eligible, you will proceed with the following steps:
- Submit the Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Application and Alien Registration that you previously submitted during your initial immigrant visa application.
- Conduct a medical examination with a licensed physician
- Send supporting documents:
- The DS-260 form confirmation page
- Signed medical documents
- Your passport with at least six months of validation
- Two photographs compliant with US Visa photo requirements
- Other documents as per the instructions of the US Embassy where you are applying
What are the fees for the SB-1 visa?
In order for your SB-1 visa application to be processed by the US Embassy, you must pay the fees. The requested rates are as follows:
- The Form DS-117 filing fee
- The Form DS-260 processing fee
- Expenses for medical visits
- Other expenses for obtaining and/or translating supporting documents
- Fees must be paid for your application to be valid. If you simply submit your application without paying, it will not be considered by the US Embassy.
How long is the SB-1 visa processing time?
The SB-1 visa processing time depends on the workload of the US embassy you are applying from. In general, however, it takes 3 to 6 months for your application to be completed and for you to be notified whether or not you have been granted the SB-1 visa.
Can I access American healthcare with an SB-1 visa?
Yes, you will have access to healthcare in the United States as an SB-1 visa holder, however, the costs of obtaining medical care in the United States are among the highest in the world.
Treating a broken leg or broken arm will cost you $2,500, while hospitalization in a US hospital can cost over $10,000 on average. You should choose the health insurance plan that is best for you, which is overall also affordable and covers your needs.
What happens if my SB-1 visa is denied?
The US Embassy decides whether you are eligible for the SB-1 visa based on the documents and evidence you present to them. If for any reason they decide that you are not eligible for the visa, they will inform you to submit additional documents or simply that you cannot get a return resident visa.
In this case, you will not be allowed to re-enter the United States without another valid visa. Your options are then to try to apply for a US immigrant visa from the beginning by starting the application process and submitting documentation or to apply for a US non-immigrant visa for a temporary visit or stay in the United States.
If you decide to apply for a nonimmigrant visa, you will then need to demonstrate that you intend to return to your home country when the visa expires or obtain a dual-intent visa that allows you to apply for permanent residency.