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Green Card Holder Rules

Green Card Holder Rules

Media interest in the US immigration status of the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, raises important points about what it means to have – or abandon – a US Green Card.

If you’ve been granted lawful permanent residence in the United States, also known as obtaining a green card, this will give you a number of valuable rights, so it’s important to be aware of the circumstances in which your green card can be lost or involuntarily abandoned. Equally, it’s important to understand your responsibilities as a green card holder, as there may be scenarios in which you will want to voluntarily end your obligations as a US resident.

Below we look at the rights and responsibilities when it comes to holding a green card, from when US permanent residence can be lost or abandoned.


What are your rights as a green card holder?

Holding a green card means that you will have a number of new rights as a US permanent resident. Under the green card holder rules, you will have the right to:

  • live permanently and own property anywhere in the United States
  • undertake any lawful work of your qualification and choosing
  • join certain branches of the US armed forces
  • apply for a driver’s licence in your state or territory
  • receive social security benefits, if you’re eligible to do so
  • request visas for your spouse and children to live in the US
  • travel in and out of the US under certain conditions
  • apply to become a US citizen, once you’ve met the eligibility criteria
  • be protected by all US federal, state and local laws.


What are your responsibilities as a green card holder?

In addition to your new rights, being a US permanent resident also means that you will have a number of new responsibilities. Under the green card holder rules, you will be required:

  • to respect and obey all US federal, state and local laws
  • to pay US federal, state and local income taxes
  • to keep your green card up-to-date, and carry this on your person if you’re aged 18 or over
  • to notify US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of any change of address
  • to register with the Selective Service, if you’re a male aged between 18 to 26.


How can you lose US permanent residence status?

Having become a lawful permanent resident in the United States, you will maintain permanent resident status until either you apply for and complete the naturalisation process to become a US citizen, or if you lose or are in some way treated as having abandoned your status.

Being a US permanent resident is a privilege, not a right, where the US government can take away your green card, and with it your lawful residency status, under a number of certain conditions. These include where you fail to comply with US laws, you fail to file your US tax returns, you fail to renew your green card, you fail to notify USCIS of any change of address, you fail to register with the Selective Service or you leave the country for a lengthy period.


Failure to comply with US laws

Everyone living in the United States must abide by US law, where permanent residents who fail to abide by either federal, state and/or local laws may have their status taken away through removal proceedings. Examples of crimes that may affect permanent resident status include any crime defined as an aggravated felony, such as crimes of violence that are felonies with a one-year prison term. However, any crime that’s considered morally wrong, even if it doesn’t carry a prison sentence, can lead to being removed from the United States. This could include any crime with an intent to steal or defraud, where physical harm is done or threatened, serious harm is caused by reckless behaviour, or a crime of sexual misconduct.


Failure to file tax returns

Any permanent resident who intends to maintain permanent resident status should file a federal tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in addition to any applicable state, city and local tax returns when required to do so. Under US immigration law, any failure to file a tax return as a permanent resident, or where a US permanent resident files a nonresident alien tax form, may result in loss of green card status.


Failure to renew your green card

Most green cards, also known as permanent resident cards, are valid for 10 years. This means that your permanent resident card must be renewed before it expires or following a change of name, otherwise risk loss of green card status. If the green card holder is a conditional permanent resident through marriage or entrepreneurship, they will have been issued with a two-year card. In these circumstances, rather than applying for an extension or renewal of status, they must file a petition for removal of their conditions before their card expires.


Failure to notify USCIS of any change of address

Green card holders must notify USCIS of any change of address within 10 days of their move, or risk loss of permanent resident status. This can be done either online or in writing.


Failure to register with the Selective Service

The Selective Service is a registration program used by the US government to create and maintain a list of names of young men in case of a national emergency that would require the rapid expansion of US armed forces. This means that any failure to register, where applicable, could expose the green card holder to loss of permanent resident status.


Lengthy absences from the US

Being absent from the United States for prolonged periods of time can lead to loss of green card status. Permanent residence normally permits a green card holder to travel outside the US and to return, although there are some limitations. Lengthy absences, especially if they involve work undertaken by the green card holder or taking up residence abroad, can lead to them being treated as having involuntarily abandoned their rights as a US permanent resident.


How can I avoid loss of US permanent residence?

If you want to continue to live and work in the United States, and preserve your right to apply for naturalisation as a US citizen, you must protect and maintain your permanent resident status. There are several things you can do to reduce the likelihood that you will be found by the US government to have abandoned your status, including:

  • complying with all federal, state and local laws at all times
  • filing federal and, if applicable, state and local income tax returns
  • complying with all other responsibilities as a US resident, including keeping a valid permanent resident card on you at all times and showing this to an immigration or law enforcement officer if asked for it; giving your new address to USCIS within 10 days of each time you move; and registering with the Selective Service if you’re a male aged 18-26
  • not leaving the United States for extended periods of time, unless your trip is for a temporary purpose, for example, to care for a family member.


How does travel outside the US affect my permanent resident status?

Permanent US residents are free to travel outside the United States, and temporary or brief travel doesn’t usually affect your permanent resident status. However, if it’s determined that you didn’t intend to make the US your permanent home, you will be treated as having abandoned your permanent resident status. As a general guide, absences outside the US of more than one year will typically be treated as abandonment, unless you have first filed for a re-entry permit prior to your departure. A re-entry permit is valid for up to two years.

A re-entry permit doesn’t necessarily guarantee entry into the US upon your return from abroad, as you must first be determined by a border official to be admissible. However, it will go a long way to helping you prove your intention to permanently reside in the United States, and that any overseas trip was only ever intended to be temporary. It’s also worth noting that you will be subject to a full immigration inspection any time you have been abroad for at least 181 days. This means that abandonment may be found to occur in trips of less than a year where it’s believed that you didn’t intend to make the US your permanent residence.

You can use your permanent resident card to re-enter the United States after a short trip abroad. However, if you’re outside the US for more than 12 months, you will need additional documentation to be re-admitted as a permanent resident. If you fail to apply for a re-entry permit, you will be putting yourself at risk of involuntary abandonment of your permanent resident status. Obtaining a re-entry permit before leaving the US allows a permanent resident to apply for admission into the US during the permit’s validity without the need to obtain a returning resident visa from either a US Embassy or Consulate abroad.


What happens if I’m found to have obtained a green card fraudulently?

In addition to being at risk of losing permanent resident status for certain criminal or immigration violations, you will also be at risk of being removed from the United States if you’re found to have obtained your green card fraudulently. This could be, for example, if USCIS discover that any marriage, which formed the basis of your application, is a sham.

You can be placed into rescission proceedings at any time during the first five years after you became a lawful permanent resident if it’s determined that you were not eligible to obtain a green card at the time your application was approved, and you would not have been eligible under any other legal provision. If your lawful permanent residence is rescinded, you will no longer be a green card holder and may be removed from the US.


Can I voluntarily abandon US permanent residence?

In some cases, you may decide to voluntarily abandon your US permanent resident status. This could be, for example, because you’ve chosen to live elsewhere and no longer want the tax filing and payment responsibilities that come with permanent residence. However, if you no longer reside in the US and wish to voluntarily give up your green card, you must formally abandon your claim to permanent resident status by filing the appropriate paperwork.

Abandoning your permanent resident status does not affect your ability to immigrate to the US in the future, although you would have to apply afresh. This is because abandonment of lawful permanent resident status is irrevocable. This means that if you’re looking to voluntarily give up green card status, you must give your decision careful thought.

In circumstances where you’re looking to voluntarily abandon your permanent resident status, or where you’re at risk of losing or being treated as having involuntarily abandoned this status, you should always immediately seek expert legal advice.


Green Card holder rules FAQs

How long can you stay out of the USA on a green card?

You shouldn’t be outside the USA for more than one year on a green card, unless you’ve applied for a re-entry permit prior to departing. In some cases, even a six month absence can cause problems being re-admitted.


How many years do you have to be in the US to get a green card?

There are a number of different ways to obtain US permanent resident status, otherwise known as a green card, with various different eligibility requirements. In some cases, you may be able to apply for a green card from overseas.


What are the new rules for green card holders?

Various new rules for green card holders came into force in 2020, including the rule that failing to admit to being an immigrant on a tax return could put an individual at risk of losing their permanent resident status.

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

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