Retain Green Card - Useful Tips
You went through lengthy procedures and lots of effort to get your green card, you should take all legal measures to maintain it. A permanent resident has many privileges as well as obligations. This document describes the legal ways to maintain your green card in the U.S. It also describes how to avoid common mistakes and precautions to take.

Green card is officially known as "Permanent Resident Card" or Form I-551. It's no longer green in color, as was the case in the past, hence the name. It was also known earlier as "Alien Registration Card", "Resident Alien Card" etc.

Green card holders are officially referred as lawful permanent resident (LPR).

Sample green card

A green card is a "privilege" and not a "right". You may lose your green card under certain circumstances. You must maintain your green card to continue to live and work in the U.S. and eventually become a U.S. citizen. You are expected to respect and be loyal to the U.S. and obey the laws.

Whether you received family based, employment based, refugee based, asylum based or diversity visa lottery based green card, all permanent residents have the same status.

Temporary Stamp
When you enter the U.S. with an immigration visa, your passport will be stamped as a temporary evidence of permanent resident status. When you go to the local USCIS office after I-485 is approved, you get the same stamp.

It serves the same purpose as the actual green card for employment and travel purposes, except that it is valid for 1 year until the actual card arrives in mail. Even though it is valid to travel back to the U.S., some airlines may incorrectly ask you to apply for advance parole to return to the U.S., if they are not fully aware of U.S. immigration laws.

Even though it is such a simple looking stamp, immigration officers at port of entry can quickly determine whether the stamp is genuine, as the ink used is a security ink. Some port of entry inspectors at a U.S. international airports require a person with the temporary stamp in the passport to go into secondary inspection. It may be helpful to keep the copy of the immigrant visa petition (I-140 for employment based, I-130 for family based etc.) handy.

The temporary stamp can be renewed if needed.

It is best not to move until the actual plastic green card arrives in the mail. If you must your change address, follow change of address procedures. However, there is no guarantee that your mail will be properly routed even after that.

If you never received the card, follow the procedure to replace green card.

Carry Evidence at All Times
The law states "Every alien in the United States shall be issued a certificate of alien registration or an alien registration receipt card in such form and manner and at such time as shall be prescribed under regulations." It also states, "Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him. Any alien who fails to comply with [these] provisions shall be guilty of a misdemeanor".

This is especially important as you may encounter many law enforcement authorities in the post 9/11 era, such as domestic travel or traffic violations.

Change of Address
You must notify USCIS within 10 days of changing your address.


Maintaining Permanent Residence
You may be found to have abandoned your permanent resident status if you:
  • Move to another country intending to live there permanently.

  • Remain outside of the U.S. for more than one year without obtaining a re-entry permit or returning resident visa. However in determining whether your status has been abandoned, any length of absence from the U.S. may be considered, even if it is less than one year.

  • Remain outside of the U.S. for more than two years after issuance of a re-entry permit without obtaining a returning resident visa. However in determining whether your status has been abandoned any length of absence from the U.S. may be considered, even if it is less than one year.

  • Fail to file income tax returns while living outside of the U.S. for any period.

  • Declare yourself a "nonresident" on your tax returns.

Register for Selective Service

If you are male of age 19 to 25, you must register with selective service.

US Resident Tax Returns
You should always file a U.S. resident tax return (Federal Form 1040) and also file any other application state, city or local taxes. You should NOT file a non-resident return, Form 1040NR; even if all of your salary and wages were earned outside the U.S. Green card holders are considered residents of the U.S. for income tax purposes, meaning that they have to file a U.S. income tax return on their worldwide income, regardless of whether they are in the U.S. or in another country. Claiming the benefits of a green card holder as a resident and taking advantage of the tax laws as a non-resident alien are in conflict, and that can invalidate your green card.

This does not necessarily mean that you must actually pay U.S. income taxes, it only means that you must file a resident tax return and declare your worldwide income on that return, even if most of this income is exempt from taxation. You will pay income tax only once for one income as a number of countries have tax treaties with the U.S. U.S. residents are allowed to take advantage of the foreign earned income exclusion rules if they are nationals (citizens) of a country with an income tax treaty with a non-discrimination article. The non-discrimination article allows the exclusion of up to some income of foreign-source salary and wage income from taxation. This income is reported on the return and then, using Form 2555, the appropriate amount of the foreign earned income exclusion (section 911) is calculated and deducted on page one of the tax return. The non-discrimination does not allow the U.S. to place a more burdensome U.S. requirement on foreign nationals of the treaty country, who are also U.S. tax residents, than the IRS places on U.S. citizens.

This is a complex matter and you should consult your CPA who is aware of tax laws of both United States and the country you will be staying while on re-entry permit. You should keep copies of all tax returns you have filed as a resident, and bring these copies with you when entering the U.S. after extended stay outside the U.S.

Claiming US Citizen
If you are not a U.S. citizen, never claim so, either in writing or even verbally, even if that was just casual. This is especially very important if you are ever stopped by law enforcement officer. Claiming to be a U.S. citizen while you are not is a serious crime, and if convicted, you can be deported from the U.S. and you may lose your green card.

Voting is considered one of the most important previeleges of democracy in the U.S., as it is the right to participate in choosing elected officials.

Permanent residents can vote only in local and state elections that do NOT require you to be a U.S. citizen.

Never vote in national, state or local elections that require voters to be a U.S. citizen, when you are not. There are criminal penalties for voting in such cases. You can be deported from the U.S., if you vote in such elections and may lose your green card.

Sponsoring Relatives
As a green card holder, you may be able to sponsor certain relatives to come and live with you permanently.

Family based immigration
Dependents and adjustment of status
Marriage and immigration

If both husband and wife are permanent residents, and if a child is born to a permanent resident mother, a child is also permanent resident, if certain conditions are met. A child must be brought to the U.S. on mother's first return trip, before the child is 2 years of age. A visa is not required for the child. Carry the child's birth certificate. Appropriate paperwork will be processed at the port of entry, based on the mother's permanent resident status.

Renew Green Card
Currently, issued green cards expire after 10 years (just the card, not the permanent residence status itself).

If it has expired or is expiring within next 6 months, you should renew green card.

Replace Green Card
If your card is lost or stolen or mutilated,
  If you are in the U.S., replace green card.
  If you are outside the U.S., get a transportation letter.

Children who reach the age of 14 must file an application to replace their green card, unless the prior card will expire before they reach age 16.

Social Security Card
Before receiving green card, if you were already in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa and either did not have a social security card or had the one with restrictions (not allowed to work, allowed to work only for specific employer etc.), you should reapply so that you receive a new card with no such restrictions.

If you arrived on an immigrant visa, the first thing you should do is apply for a social security card.

Once you receive a social security number, it remains same for your entire life.

Apply for social security number

Keep your social security card in a safe place and if you travel outside the U.S., carry it with you when you return to the U.S.

You can get a Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare benefits, if eligible.

Work Authorization
You are authorized for any legal work or employment according to your qualitification and choosing. However, some jobs will be limited to U.S. citizens due to security concerns.

The Permanent Resident Card (either unconditioned or conditional or temporary stamp) can be used to prove employment eligibiity in the U.S. when completing the Form I-9 with a new employer.

International Travel
Less than 6 months:
You are allowed to travel freely outside the U.S. and return to the U.S. You will need to have your passport from your country of citizenship and your green card to travel. Traveling outside the U.S. for less than 6 months in a year (continuous or frequent trips) is not a problem. Staying outside more than that has consequences on retaining the green card, naturalization eligibility as explained in other sections.

6 months to 1 year:
If you are returning to the U.S. from a visit abroad of less than 1 year, you may apply for readmission by presenting your green card to the immigration authoritites at a port of entry.

The 1 year time limitation does not apply to the sposue or child of a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, or of a civilian employee of the U.S. Government stationed abroad pursuant to official orders. In this case, the spouse or child must present the green card, not have relinquished residence, and be preceding or accompanying the member or employee, or be following to join the member or employee in the U.S. within 4 months of the return of the member or employee.

Reentry Permit:
If you wish to remain outside the U.S. for more than 1 year, but less than 2 years, you require a Reentry Permit.

Returning Resident (SB-1) Visa:
If you are unable to return to the U.S. within the travel validity period of a green card (1 year), or a Reentry Permit (2 years), you may apply to the nearest U.S. consulate for a Returning Resident (SB-1) visa.

Extended Stay Outside the US
It is very important to understand that you have been given a green card (permanent resident card) to stay here in USA permanently. That means, you must stay primarily in the United States. You can travel outside United States for less than 6 months in a given year without having any problem in general. Absences abroad of more than six months but less than 1 year create a reasonable presumption that you intended to abandon your residence. You must never abandon the intention of continuing to stay permanently in the United States. Once, you abandon that intention (such as by intending to reside permanently in some other country), you loose the right to keep your green card. Please note that simply returning to the U.S. once a year for several weeks to use the green card is not enough. In practice, USCIS may not catch you, but if they do, they can place you in exclusion proceedings (first step in canceling a green card when a green card holder is trying to enter the United States) when they do suspect that you are actually not living in the United States. USCIS looks at the person's ties to the U.S. to determine the intent. They may look at family ties, property holdings, business affiliations, length of stay outside the U.S. and local community ties. They will compare the existence of these factors in the U.S. vs. similar ties outside the U.S.

However, if you must stay for an extended period outside the U.S., taking the following steps may help you retain the green card. Even if you take all the precautions, there is no guarantee that you will be allowed to enter the U.S. as a permanent resident. There may be other reasons not to let you enter the U.S., e.g., committing a crime involiving moral turpitude.
  • If you own real estate in the U.S., do not sell it prior to leaving the U.S. Consider renting your house, condominium etc. instead of selling it.

  • Maintain your savings account in the U.S. Some employers, when assigning an employee overseas, would continue to pay the employee in U.S. dollars, directly depositing the salary into the employee's US bank account.

  • Maintain correspondence with all your friends and family in the U.S.

  • Maintain a U.S. address, even if it is the home of a friend or a relative. Do not have a resort or hotel address as a U.S. address. Do not use "care of" for your address, if possible.

  • Keep all your telephone bills showing various calls to the U.S.

  • Continue to maintain your U.S. driver's license and all credit cards. Make sure that the address on your license is the same as that recorded on any immigration documents. Carry your driver's license when entering the U.S.

  • Document the reasons for a long stay abroad. If you are going to stay outside the U.S. because of overseas transfer by a U.S. employer, obtain a written employment contract or letter from your employer specifying the terms and length of employment. If the employment will lead to a transfer back to the U.S., or to a U.S. based affiliate of the foreign employer, the contract or statement should include this fact.

  • Do NOT return to the U.S. with a spouse and/or children who are neither U.S. citizens nor green card holders, especially if they will be in the U.S., only for a short time.

  • Do NOT arrive at a port of entry functioning as a gateway to a resort area.

  • Do NOT enter the U.S. on a round-trip ticket that terminates outside the U.S.

  • Do NOT arrive via chartered air carrier where nearly all passengers are nonimmigrant.

  • Do NOT return to the U.S. using any form of nonimmigrant visa. e.g., if you stay outside the U.S. for longer than 1 year, without having obtained a Re-entry Permit, do NOT return to the U.S. on a tourist visa. Instead, apply to the U.S. embassy/consulate in your home country for a Special Immigrant Visa.

  • If possible, it is preferable that immediate family members, including any spouse, children, and parents, remain in the U.S.

  • Pay any house mortgage or car loan timely, and keep all records of payment.

  • Maintain professional or social memberships and continue to pay the fees timely, receiving journals or attending annual meetings.

Re-entry Permit
Don't leave the United States for an extended period of time or move to another country to live there permanently.

If you are planning to stay outside United States for more than 1 year but less than 2 years, you must get a Re-entry Permit before leaving the United States. This is an indication that the USCIS has accepted your explanation that your intention is to stay abroad for 1-2 years as a temporary matter. But if you repeatedly keep applying for re-entry permit, USCIS may deny your application as they would determine that you do not intend to keep your permanent residence in the U.S.

File Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes. Form N-470 lets you keep your residence status for naturalization purposes under certain circumstances.

If you commit any crime as a U.S. citizen, you will face criminal penalties. However, as a non U.S. citzen (even if permanent resident), if you commit any crime, in addition to all the criminal penalties, it is also an immigration problem. Additionally, you will be taken to an immigration judge and your legal status may be jeopardized in the U.S., you may loose your green card or have serious consequences on being able to apply for U.S. citizenship in future.

You must obey all federal, state, and local laws. You are expected to support the democratic form of government and cannot attempt to change the government through illegal means.

Examples of crimes that may affect your LPR status include:
  • A crime defined as an "aggravated felony", which includes crimes of violence that are felonies with a 1-year prison term.

  • Murder.

  • Terrorist activities.

  • Rape.

  • Sexual assault on a child.

  • 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.

  • Commission of 2 or more crimes of moral turpitude not arising from the same scheme of misconduct.

There are also serious consequences for you as an LPR if you:
  • Lie to get immigration benefits for yourself or someone else.

  • Say you are a U.S. citizen if you are not.

  • Vote in a federal election or in a local election open only to U.S. citizens.

  • Are a "habitual drunkard"-someone who is drunk or someone who uses illegal drugs most of the time.

  • Are married to more than 1 person at the same time.

  • Fail to support your family or to pay child or spousal support as ordered.

  • Are arrested for assault or harassing a family member (commit domestic violence), including violating a protection order.
    While it may be acceptable to hit one's spouse in some cultures, it is a crime in the U.S., and taken very seriously under immigration law. Assaults may also occur during heated sporting events, on and off the playing field.

  • 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.

Each particular charge carries a slightly different analysis depending upon the facts and laws may be slightly different in each state for certain matters. If you have committed or been convicted of a crime, before you apply for another immigration benefit you should consult with a reputable immigration lawyer or a community-based organization that provides legal service to immigrants.

Other crimes that may affect your green card are

Drunk driving
Rules regarding drunk-driving are quite strict in most parts of the U.S. The alchohol levels for a criminal charge vary from state to state and even a small amount of alchohol consumption prior to driving can result in a criminal charge in many states.

Keep all merchandise in the shopping cart, basket or clearly in your hands. Do not put any unpurchased items in your pockets, bags or appeared to be concealed in any way. A minor crime like shoplifting may cause lot of expenses in crimial attorney, immigration attorney, losing green card eligibility, having green card revoked and deported back to home country, losing elibility to apply for U.S. citizenship. You will not be forgiven if you just return the item you stole. It may be considered a "crime involving moral turpitude" and it may be a ground of inadmissibility into the U.S.

Friends, roommates
Stay away from everyone who may be involved in any criminal activity. Especially for roommates, if any person engages in criminal activity in the home or possesses illegal substances, all residents of the home will be suspected.

Tip for teenage children: They may make mistakes that would be handled as a family matter or as youthful error for U.S. citizens, while it can have serious immigration consequences as non-US citizens.

Naturalization (Citizenship)
Once permanent resident completes the necessary residence and physical present requirements, he/she can file for naturalization (citizenship).

Becoming a U.S. citizen has many benefits such as voting in elections, getting jobs limited to U.S. citizens only due to security reasons, sponsoring more relatives, easier international travel etc.

Green card approval will be reviewed at the time of the naturalization review. Employment based green card holders should review the section about sponsoring employer. Similarly, for marriage based green cards, if the couple is no longer married, there may be questions about the duration of the marriage, the reason for break-up etc.

Citizenship etails

Conditional Residents
A conditional permanent resident card is valid for 2 years and can't be renewed. In order to remain a permanent resident,
  • If you became a conditional resident through a marriage to a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident, submit Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence; or

  • If you became a conditional resident based on a financial investment in a U.S. business, submit Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions.

Additional Rights
As a permanent resident, you have the right to:
  • Live and work permanently anywhere in the U.S.

  • Own property in the U.S.

  • Apply for a driver's license in your state or territory

  • Attend public school and college

  • Join certain branches of the U.S. armed forces

  • Purchase or own a firearm, as long as there are no state or local restrictions prohibiting that

  • To be protected by the law of the U.S., your state of residence and local jurisdictions

  • Keep important documents you brought from your home country in a safe place. These documents include your passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce certificate, diplomas showing that you have graduated from high school or college, and certificates that show you have special training or skills.