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Retain Green Card – Useful Tips

Since you went through lengthy procedures and put lots of effort into getting 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.

A green card is officially known as a “Permanent Resident Card” or Form I-551. It started with it being green in color, hence the name. It changed various colors throughout the years and is now green again. It was also earlier known as a “Alien Registration Card”, “Resident Alien Card” etc.

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

Sample Green Card

A green card is a privilege and not a right. Under certain circumstances, you may lose your green card . 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 temporary evidence of permanent resident status. When you go to the local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office after your 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 the mail. Even though it is valid for travel back to the U.S., some airlines may incorrectly ask you to apply for an 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 a port of entry can quickly determine whether the stamp is genuine through the ink. Some port of entry inspectors at U.S. international airports require a person with a temporary stamp in their passport to go through a secondary inspection. It may be helpful to keep a copy of your immigrant visa petition (I-140 for employment based, I-130 for family based etc.) handy.

A temporary stamp can be renewed if needed.

It is best not to travel until the actual plastic green card arrives in the mail. If you must your change address, follow these 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 your green card.

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Carry Evidence at All Times

The law states that “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 because 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 the USCIS within 10 days of changing your address.

Details

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 reentry 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 reentry 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 for an income tax return 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 from the age 19 to 25, you must register with the selective service.

US Resident Tax Returns

You should always file a U.S. resident tax return (Federal Form 1040) and any other application state, city or local taxes. You should NOT file a nonresident tax return, Form 1040NR, even if all of your salary and wages were earned outside the United States. Green card holders are considered residents of the U.S. for income tax purposes. This means 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 nonresident alien could invalidate your green card.

This does not necessarily mean that you must 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 only pay income tax once for one income, because a number of countries have tax treaties with the United States. U.S. residents are allowed to take advantage of foreign earned income exclusion rules if they are nationals (citizens) of a country with a non-discrimination article income tax treaty. A non-discrimination article allows the exclusion of up to some income of a foreign-source salary and wage income from taxation. This income is reported on the return and then, using a 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 a CPA that is aware of tax laws for both United States and the country you will be staying while on a reentry permit. You should keep copies of all the 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.

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Claiming US Citizen

If you are not a U.S. citizen, never claim so either in writing or even verbally, even casually. This is very important if you are ever stopped by a law enforcement officer. Claiming to be a U.S. citizen when you are not is a serious crime, and if convicted, it could result in being deported from the U.S. and losing your green card.

Voting

Voting is considered to be one of the most important privileges of democracy in the U.S., because it is the right to participate in electing officials.

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

When you are not a U.S. citizen, never vote in national, state, or local elections that require voters to be a U.S. citizen . There are criminal penalties for illegally voting; you could be deported from the U.S. or lose your green card.

Sponsoring Relatives

As a green card holder, you can sponsor certain relatives to come and live with you permanently.

Family based immigration
Dependents and adjustment of status
Marriage and immigration

If a child is born to a permanent resident mother and both the husband and wife are permanent residents, the child is also considered a permanent resident if certain conditions are met. A child must be brought to the U.S. on the 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. The appropriate paperwork will be processed at a 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 the next 6 months, you should renew green card.

Replace Green Card

If your card is lost, stolen, or mutilated and you are in the U.S. replace your green card, and 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

If you were already in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa before receiving a green card and either did not have a Social Security card or had a visa with restrictions (not allowed to work, allowed to work only for a specific employer, etc.), you should reapply so you can receive a new card with no 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 the 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.

If eligible, you can get Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare benefits.

Work Authorization

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

The Permanent Resident Card (either unconditioned, conditional, or a temporary stamp) can be used to prove employment eligibility in the U.S. when completing a 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 back to the U.S. You would need to have your passport from your country of citizenship and green card to travel. Traveling outside of the U.S. for less than 6 months in a year (continuous or frequent trips) is not a problem. Staying outside more than 6 months a year has consequences on retaining the green card and 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 more than 6 months but less than 1 year, you may need to apply for readmission by presenting your green card to the immigration authorities at a port of entry.

The 1 year time limitation does not apply to the spouse or child of a United States Armed Forces member or 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 a 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, a Reentry Permit is required.

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.

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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 the USA permanently. That means, you must primarily stay in the United States. You can travel outside the 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, the 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. The USCIS looks at the person’s ties to the U.S. to determine their 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 your 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 to not let you enter the U.S., e.g., committing a crime involving 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 United States. Some employers when assigning an employee overseas, 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 an 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 a chartered air carrier where nearly all passengers are nonimmigrants.
  • Do NOT return to the U.S. using any form of a 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 your spouse, children, and parents, remain in the U.S.
  • Pay any house mortgages or car loans timely and keep all records of payments.
  • Maintain professional or social memberships and continue to pay the fees timely, receive journals, or attend annual meetings.

Re-entry Permit

Do not leave the United States for an extended period of time or permanently move to another country to live there.

If you are planning to stay outside the United States for more than 1 year but less than 2, you must get a reentry permit before leaving the United States. This is an indication that the USCIS has accepted your explanation that your intention to stay abroad for 1-2 years is for a temporary matter. If you repeatedly apply for a reentry permit, the USCIS may deny your application because they determined 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.

Crime

If you commit any crime as a U.S. citizen, you will face criminal penalties. However, as a non U.S. citizen (even as a permanent resident), if you commit a crime, in addition to criminal penalties, you will face immigration problems. Additionally, you will be taken to an immigration judge and your legal status in the U.S. may be jeopardized. You may loose your green card or have serious consequences, such as not 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 activity.
  • Rape.
  • Sexual assault of a child.
  • drugs, firearms, or people trafficking.
  • 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 as an LPR if you:

  • Lie to get immigration benefits for yourself or someone else.
  • Say you are a U.S. citizen.
  • Vote in a federal or 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 (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 and the 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 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.

Shoplifting
Keep all merchandise in your 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 could cause a lot of unforeseen expenses and consequences such as hiring a criminal attorney or immigration attorney, losing green card eligibility, having your green card revoked and deported back to home country, or losing your eligibility to apply for U.S. citizenship. You will not be forgiven if you simply return the item you stole. It may be considered a “crime involving moral turpitude” and a ground of inadmissibility into the U.S.

Friends, roommates
Stay away from anyone who may be involved in any criminal activity. Especially for roommates, if a 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, but it can have serious immigration consequences as a non-US citizen.

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Naturalization (Citizenship)

Once a permanent resident completes the necessary residence and physical presence 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, 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 a 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 the break-up etc.

Citizenship Details

Conditional Residents

A conditional permanent resident card is valid for 2 years and cannot be renewed. In order to remain a permanent resident,

  • If you became a conditional resident through marriage to a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident, submit a 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 a 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 a 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.

Other

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

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