Everlasting residents who left america in the course of the pandemic due to concern of not with the ability to come residence: NPR

Author Keri Smith survived the pandemic in Canada, where she was born. Now she’s worried about going back to her home in Northampton, Massachusetts. Jefferson Pitcher / Keri Smith

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Jefferson Pitcher / Keri Smith

Author Keri Smith survived the pandemic in Canada, where she was born. Now she’s worried about going back to her home in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Jefferson Pitcher / Keri Smith

When the pandemic broke out, Keri Smith and her family fled with anything that could fit in their car. They spent the last 15 months in Canada, where she was born, in a family home in rural Nova Scotia.

Now that Smith and her husband are fully vaccinated, they are ready to return to their home in Northampton, Massachusetts.

“I have my house, my kids are going to school,” Smith said in an interview with NPR. “We want to return to our lives. We are ready. And we cannot.”

Smith’s situation is complicated by the fact that she is not a US citizen. She is a legal permanent resident and has been out of the country for more than a year, which means she may have problems crossing the border.

Summer travel options outside of the US are still up in the air as COVID cases rise

For many Americans, it will be easier to move around the world as COVID restrictions are lifted. But it’s a very different picture for immigrants trying to return to the U.S. The significant disruption to the immigration system and global travel that it caused.

Even green card holders are finding that their US residence may not be quite as permanent as they thought they were.

“They did everything they could to stay here. They pay taxes here,” said Allen Orr, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in an interview with NPR. “And now we’ve told them we don’t care about you.”

If you leave for more than a year – without permission – you may have given up your permanent residence

It’s not clear how many green card holders are still overseas, but Orr says the number is likely in the thousands.

Some green card holders have been driven by concerns about their own health. Keri Smith says she is particularly concerned because she was diagnosed with mast cell activation disorder and feared that her condition could worsen complications from COVID-19.

“I just thought, ‘I have to go through this,” said Smith. “To be honest, I was afraid for my life because of my medical situation.”

Other permanent residents left the United States to attend to sick relatives overseas. They didn’t want to leave for that long but couldn’t return due to travel restrictions.

“Suddenly they were faced with the situation that they could not return,” said Tahmina Watson, Seattle immigration attorney, in an interview with NPR. “As the months and weeks and months went by, the situation only got worse.”

If you are a legal permanent resident, you must obtain permission before leaving the country for more than a year. If you fail to do so, immigration authorities may conclude that you have given up your place of residence and you could potentially lose your green card.

Permanent residents who have been overseas for over a year can apply for a special re-entry visa – except that many U.S. embassies and consulates around the world are closed and those that are open have huge backlogs.

There is another option: show up at the border or at the airport and represent your case.

Customs officials have some leeway but cannot make promises

“There is a certain hesitation. There is fear. It is completely understandable. But the officials are prepared,” said Aaron Bowker, a public affairs liaison for the US Customs and Border Protection.

CBP officials have the discretion to put returning green card holders on deportation if they suspect you have left your place of residence. However, Bowker says these officials are considering the pandemic.

“What should you have done if the airlines couldn’t fly here for six, eight months, right? You couldn’t come back here,” he said in an interview with NPR. “These are all things that we take into account when we take people back into the country.”

What CBP can’t do, says Bowker, is to promise that anyone who was out of the country during the pandemic can just come back with no questions asked.

“Things are handled on a case-by-case basis. It’s very hard to paint a brush for anyone who says everything will be fine,” he said. “That really depends on the conversation with the officer.”

The line that Americans and Canadians cannot cross

But immigration lawyers say this situation creates confusion. Some airlines don’t allow green card holders to board planes for the US, even though CBP says they should.

“This is an easy situation for the Biden government to just make a policy and say, for this period, for the COVID period, we will just ignore this rule. You can fly back into the country, ”Orr said.

The situation is disproportionately bad for immigrants of color, argues Orr, because they are more likely to be checked or turned away at the border.

CBP denies this. Bowker says officials are trained not to consider race and religion when making decisions about eligibility and to recognize that some travelers may find the interview process stressful.

“It’s an uncomfortable position,” said Bowker. “Part of our job is to make the person as comfortable as possible because there is no real reason not to.”

“It feels like a game of chance” and may seem like there aren’t any good options

But some green card holders describe encounters with customs officers that are anything but inviting.

Yael Sachs says her mother, who holds a green card, recently flew back from Israel to the United States, where she and Sachs’ father had spent much of the past year. They came to stay with Sachs, a naturalized citizen who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years, at her home outside of Seattle.

“They came back as soon as possible, which happened to be the day before my mother was out of the country for a full year,” Sachs said in an interview.

The customs officer at the airport in Chicago was suspicious, says Sachs, and wanted to know why her mother had not been in the United States for so long.

“He said, ‘I have to investigate this.’ He left. He was gone for quite a while, certainly long enough to make my parents really nervous, “Sachs said.” He came back. He wasn’t friendly. And he said, ‘The only reason I’m letting you in is is that it’s a day under a year. ‘”

For green card holders, it can feel like there aren’t any good options. Keri Smith, the permanent resident who weathered the pandemic in Canada, says she called the U.S. consulate in Nova Scotia for advice.

“That person at the consulate said, okay, if I were you I would just try to cross over. Seems like your best bet, ”said Smith. “It feels like a gamble, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Smith is a best-selling author who has written several books on creativity, including Wreck This Journal. So she thinks she’ll be fine no matter what. But she worries what might happen to other permanent residents who cannot afford a good lawyer and cannot risk throwing the dice.

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