Permanent Residents:

How To Maintain Green Card Status?


Congratulations, you have acquired Green Card status in the United States. That does not mean your journey is over. While the first step may be over, the journey to maintain the right to live and work in the United States is just beginning. It is very important for you to maintain permanent residence status in the US if you have any desire to become a US Citizenship. The key point here is that it is necessary for you to continue to permanently “reside” in the US, otherwise you run the risk of no longer being considered a permanent resident of US.

As a permanent resident you have adopted the US as your home. This means that you have to respect and be loyal to the United States, and are required to obey the laws of the country. It also means that you gain new rights and responsibilities related to your adopted nation. It should also be noted that being a permanent resident is a “privilege” and not a “right.” The US government can take away your green card status under certain conditions. This article will discuss how you can maintain green card status, and why it is so important to do so.

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How To Maintain Green Card Status

There are certain important things you must do to maintain green card status, especially with a view toward seeking naturalization in the future. The following points must be kept in mind when you prepare to apply for naturalization as a US citizen in the future:

1.Don’t leave the United States for any extended period of time, or move to another country with the intent to live there permanently

2.Always file your federal, state, and, if applicable, local income tax returns as a resident.

3.Register with the Selective Service, if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 26.

4.Give your new address to DHS.

My Case Scenario

Bruce, a national of Great Britain and a permanent resident of the US, married his long time girl friend a couple of years ago. He filed a relative petition for her shortly after they got married. Bruce finished his Bachelors degree in engineering at a university in England and got a job at British manufacturing company after graduation. He has been living primarily in Great Britain for the last 5 years (including his last 2 years at university and 3 years working). He has only been coming back to the US for a few weeks every couple of years to renew his re-entry permit. Bruce has paid his US income taxes, but has no residence in the US other than the home of his parents (whom he got his green card through).

Bruce is planning a trip to the US next month, and his wife should be scheduled for her immigrant visa interview within the next 3 months. Will Bruce have any difficulties in maintaining his permanent status when he travels to the US next month? We will answer this question after we continue our discussion.

We will discuss each of these four points and how they apply to your future:

1. Keep Your Immigration Status Do not leave the United States for an extended period of time:

Many immigrants believe they can live abroad for as long as they want, as long as they return to the US at least once a year. This is incorrect! Long absences indicate that you do not intend to maintain green card status in the US.

Permanent residents or ‘Green Card holders’ who leave the US for extended periods of time, or who cannot show their intent to live permanently in the US, may be considered to have abandoned their status in the US and lose their green card status.

If you think you will be out of the US for more than 6 months, and definitely if there is any chance you will be outside the US for more than 12 months, you should apply for a Re-entry Permit before leaving the country. You apply for the Re-entry Permit on Form I-131, Application for a Travel Document. A Re-entry Permit is valid for up to two years, and allows you to remain outside the US for up to two years. You may show the Re-entry Permit, along with your visa or your Green Card, at a US port of entry.

Having a Re-entry Permit does not guarantee that you will be readmitted to the US when you return, but it can make it easier to show that you are returning from a temporary visit abroad and greatly improve your chances.

2. File Tax Returns File Federal, state, and, if applicable, local income tax returns:

As a permanent resident, you must file income tax returns as a resident and report your income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and your state, city, or local tax department, if required. If you do not file income tax returns while living outside the US for any length of time, or if you file as a “non-immigrant” on your tax returns, the US government may decide that you have given up your green card status.

3. Register With The Selective Service

If you are a male and you are between the ages of 18 and 26, you must register with the US Selective Service. When you register you are telling the US government that you are available to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. The US does not currently have a military draft, which means that permanent residents and citizens do not have to serve in the Armed Forces unless they want to.

4. Give Your New Address To DHS

Every time you move, you are required to inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of your new address. You must file a Form AR-11, Alien’s Change of Address Card, within 10 days of your move. There is no fee to file this form, and you may even change your address online via an electronic AR-11 form. The online change of address site also accepts address changes for most pending cases.

Situations Under Which You Lose Your U.S. Permanent Resident Status

There are many situations through which you can lose your green card status. We have addressed a couple of these above – remaining outside the US for extended periods of time and filing tax returns as a non-immigrant – but want to address another important category now – criminal behavior.

Criminal Behavior

The US is a law-abiding society. Permanent residents in the United States must obey all laws. If you are a green card holder and engage in criminal activity or are convicted of a crime in the US or elsewhere, you could have serious problems. You could be removed (deported) from the country, not allowed back into the US if you leave the country, and, in certain circumstances, lose your eligibility to become a naturalized US citizen.

Examples of crimes that will affect your green card status include:

  • Any crime defined as an “aggravated felony,” which include crimes of violence that are felonies with a one-year prison term.
  • Murder.
  • Terrorist activities.
  • Rape.
  • Sexual assault of a child.
  • Illegal trafficking in drugs, firearms, or people.
  • A crime of “moral turpitude,” which in general is a crime with an intent to steal or defraud; a crime where physical harm is done or threatened; a crime where serious physical harm is caused by reckless behavior; or a crime of sexual misconduct.

There are also serious consequences for you as a permanent resident if you:

  • Lie to get immigration benefits for yourself or someone else.
  • Claim you are a U.S. citizen if you are not.
  • Vote in a federal or local election open only to U.S. citizens
  • Are an “habitual drunkard”— defined by the immigration authorities as someone who is drunk or someone who uses illegal drugs most of the time?.
  • Are bigamist, a person married to more than one person at the same time.
  • Fail to support your family or to pay child or spousal support as ordered.
  • Are arrested for assaulting or harassing a family member, including violating a protection order. This is called domestic violence.
  • Lie to get public benefits.
  • Fail to file tax returns when required.
  • Willfully fail to register for the Selective Service if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 26.
  • Help someone else who is not a U.S. citizen or national to enter the United States illegally, even if that person is a close relative and even if you are not paid.

If you have committed any crime, or have been convicted of a crime, you should consult with a reputable immigration attorney or a community-based organization that provides legal service to immigrants, before you apply for another immigration benefit or travel outside the US.

Why Is It Important To Maintain Your Lawful Green Card Status?

A Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR or green card holder) can apply for U.S. Citizenship through naturalization after they have been permanent residents for five years . This period is shortened to

1.three years if the permanent resident is married to a U.S. citizen and received their green card status through that U.S. citizen spouse, or

2.four years if permanent residency was received through political asylum or refugee status.

LPRs may submit their applications for naturalization up to 90 days before meeting the residency requirement.

U.S. citizens are entitled to several rights, and some obligations, that do not accrue to permanent residents (who are still classified as aliens in this respect). For example,

1.LPRs generally do not have the right to vote, nor the right to be elected in federal and state elections.

2.They do not have the ability to bring most family members to the United States ( permanent residents are only allowed to sponsor spouses and unmarried children under 21 years old ).

3.They are not eligib le for certain federal government jobs, and male

4.permanent residents between the ages of 18 and 26 must register for the Selective Service System.

5.However, like U.S. citizens, p ermanent residents pay taxes on their worldwide income .

6.Finally, certain conditions (i.e., criminal convictions) that may put a permanent resident in deportation proceedings do not apply to U.S. citizens.

Now let’s go back and see what may happen to Bruce. Let’s recap the facts: Bruce has been living outside the US with his British wife, he is working for a British company, has no true residence in the US, and only comes back to the US every couple of years. However, he does have a re-entry permit and he has continued to pay his US taxes.

Bruce is likely to have problems when he enters the US. It looks very much like he has abandoned his permanent residence status by staying in England after completing his university degree, working for a British company, and probably most telling living with his British national wife. The re-entry permit and filing of taxes in the US may not be enough to overcome the suspicions of an immigration inspector. He will have to be prepared for some tough questions.

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Permanent residents have most of the rights of U.S. citizens, but there are many important reasons to consider becoming a U.S. citizen, including getting those rights only available to U.S. citizens. Green Card status is a “privilege” and not a “right”, a privilege the US government can take away under certain conditions. Maintaining green card status, is therefore important, so that you can enjoy the privilege of becoming a U.S. citizen.

Before a Permanent Resident (Green Card holder) can apply for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process, he or she needs to fulfill the 5 year (shorter if married to a U.S. citizen or an asylee) residency requirement. Permanent Residents who spend lengthy periods outside the US may disrupt their residency, delaying their ability to naturalize.

However, certain permanent residents may qualify for special benefits that allow them to count time spent outside the U.S. toward their residency requirement. These permanent residents will need to submit an “Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes,” which will be discussed in a future article.

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