A) GREEN CARD AS A TRAVEL DOCUMENT: A permanent resident uses the alien registration card (the “Green Card”) in lieu of a visa to return to the United States from a trip abroad of less than six months. If you are outside the United States for more than six months, but less than a year you would be subject to inspection as an alien upon your return.
If you were to remain outside the United States for one year or more, you would be excludable unless you obtained a returning resident visa at the consulate while overseas, or filed for and obtained a Re-entry Permit from USCIS before you left the United States. (The returning resident visa may be difficult to obtain because the consul must be satisfied that you could not have foreseen the need to remain outside the United States a year or more.)
B) RE-ENTRY PERMITS: If you will possibly be outside the United States and/or have a residence abroad for periods in excess of six months, you should obtain a re-entry permit that will authorize you to remain outside the United States for up to two years. You must apply for the re-entry permit before you leave the United States. Although the re-entry permit remains valid for two years, obtaining a re-entry permit is no guarantee you will be admitted as a returning resident after a prolonged absence.
LOSING YOUR RESIDENCE
A) ABANDONMENT OF PERMANENT RESIDENCE: Even short departures from the United States may result in loss of permanent residence. When you are inspected by an immigration officer upon your return to the United States, you may be found to have lost your “permanent residence” if the immigration officer determines that your home is no longer in the United States. Loss of permanent residence may occur if any one of the following occurs: you accept a job abroad; you fail to file a resident tax return; you stay outside the United States for more than one year without a valid re-entry permit; or you are otherwise found to have abandoned your residence in the United States. Taking a permanent job overseas, or a job for an indefinite term, can create problems, but a clearly temporary job that is for a specific and relatively short period of time may be acceptable.
In determining whether you have abandoned residence, USCIS (or the U.S. consul, if you are applying for a visa as a “returning resident”) will consider a number of factors, which bear on your intent to reside in the United States. These include the amount of time you have spent in the United States; where you are working; whether your trips abroad are clearly temporary in purpose; your ties to the United States; the existence of a home in the United States; your payment (or failure to pay) taxes as a resident of the United States; your ownership of property; and the reasons for your trips abroad.
Should you plan any extensive time abroad, it would be advisable to seek preliminary advice from an immigration attorney.
B) OTHER WAYS TO LOSE YOUR STATUS: Even though you have a “green card,” you can be deported from the United States under certain circumstances, including:
- A conviction of most crimes but particularly one involving a controlled substance; crimes of deception or theft; domestic abuse; or other crimes of violence are likely to lead to removal of your lawful permanent resident status. We especially note that certain activities in the United States are illegal that are not necessarily illegal in other countries. Examples may include but are not limited to soliciting or being a prostitute; engaging in bookmaking or other non-licensed gambling; failing to report all income earned from whatever source in the world, not just the United States, — these are generally considered crimes in the United States.
- Knowingly encouraging or aiding anyone else to enter the United States illegally or fraudulently;
- Failing to notify the Immigration Service of a change of address (this can now be done on an AR-11 form, online at USCIS.gov, or over the phone with a USCIS customer service representative);
- Engaging in espionage, sabotage, or terrorist activities.
- Claiming to be a United States Citizen or voting in an election in the United States. (DO NOT REGISTER TO VOTE UNTIL YOU ARE A CITIZEN).
You may also lose your status if you were ineligible to obtain that status in the first place. This can happen if USCIS discovers that you misrepresented yourself or any of your documents at the time you obtained permanent residence. You may also be found to be ineligible for permanent residence if you separated from your spouse or the employer who petitioned for you shortly after obtaining your status, and the Immigration Service finds that you did not intend to live with your spouse, or work for your employer, at the time you became a permanent resident.
C) PROCEEDINGS TO TAKE AWAY YOUR STATUS: If you are living in the United States as a permanent resident, USCIS can bring an action to rescind that status, or an action to deport you from the United States. The former begins with the service by USCIS of a “Notice of Intent to Rescind.” The latter begins with the service of a “Notice to Appear.” Your failure to respond to either of those documents could result in the loss of your residence, and your removal from the United States. USCIS can serve the Notice of Intent to Rescind by simply mailing it to you at the last address in their files, which you have given them. Therefore, it is extremely important that you keep USCIS advised of your address. Should you be faced with a criminal prosecution, or should you receive a Notice of Intent to Rescind or a Notice to Appear, please consult our offices or another competent immigration attorney immediately.
D) CONDITIONAL RESIDENCE: Your green card is only valid for two years from the date of issuance and you are a conditional resident and required to file an application to remove conditional resident restrictions prior to second anniversary of your approval for permanent residence. You will be deportable if you fail to file this application on time. You cannot file the application until 21 months after the approval of your permanent residence unless you are divorced. (The filing period begins 90 days before your I-551 “Green Card” expires and ends on the date of expiration.) You will be required to document that you remained married to the person who petitioned for you, or, if no longer married, that your marriage was valid at its inception or that you are otherwise eligible for a waiver. Extensive documentation is required and your spouse will have to sign the application unless you obtain a waiver. Approval of the removal of the conditions application will result you obtaining another Green Card with an expiration date of 10 years from the date of issuance.
If you should like us to assist with the removal of conditions, please call our office at least 90 days before the expiration of your card.
A) U.S. RESIDENT TAX RETURN: Every permanent resident of the United States is a U.S. tax resident. As such, you are required to pay U.S. taxes on all your income—worldwide. You do receive credit for certain taxes paid abroad. Your failure to pay taxes can result in a finding that you have abandoned your permanent residence, even if you can legitimately claim non-resident status under a tax treaty. You are also liable for state income taxes.
B) ESTATE TAXES: The estates of persons who are U.S. tax residents when deceased are subject to U.S. estate tax. If you have not already done so, you may wish to consider consulting a professional with regard to minimizing the amount of taxes, which would be involved under such circumstances. If you do not know of an appropriate tax professional, please contact our office for a referral.
C) WILLS: In the United States, the law of your state of residence governs who will receive your property at your death if there is no will; the general law of wills and also is generally the primary government that taxes estates. If you have transnational assets, such as property in a foreign country, this may create conflicts of law or taxation that could whittle away your assets upon your death. In many cases this can be mitigated by good estate planning and we recommend that you consider this if you have foreign real estate; blended families from prior marriages; or other complicating issues.
A) OBTAINING A SOCIAL SECURITY CARD: You may obtain a Social Security card once you have employment authorization, your Form I-551, or the temporary I-551 stamp in your passport. You will need to file an application for a Social Security number in person at the Social Security office. When filing this application at the Social Security Office, you should bring the following documents with you: your original birth certificate, passport, and employment authorization document or stamped passport or I-551. Call 1-800-772-1213 for further information including the address of your local Social Security office, or visit its website at www.ssa.gov.
B) RESTRICTIONS ON YOUR S.S. CARD: If you already have your Social Security card, but it is restricted as “not valid for employment”, or “not valid without an USCIS employment authorization document”, you should contact Social Security with your evidence of permanent resident status to have the restrictions removed.
C) YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY ACCOUNT: Even if you have a Social Security number, you should check to make sure you received credits under Social Security for any taxable work you did before you got your I-551. Sometimes they misplace the records if you did not have a valid card, and this is the time to unscramble the records. Request a form SSA-7004, Request for Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement, from Social Security to check these records. In fact, you should check your earnings statement every three to four years, because errors more than four years old cannot usually be corrected.
D) MISUSING A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER: You should be aware that it is a serious criminal offense to use someone else’s Social Security number or to use a fraudulently obtained one. If you have done so in the past, you should seek legal advice before contacting Social Security office.
E) TOTALIZATION TREATIES: If you were assigned by your employer abroad to work in the United States and are from a country that has a totalization treaty with the United States, it may be possible to claim an exemption from U.S. Social Security taxes and to claim a refund of Social Security taxes paid by your employer in the past three tax years. In order to do this your employer overseas will have to pay into your home country’s Social Security system. This can result in a substantial refund without sacrificing your benefits if your Social Security tax rate is lower overseas. Most European countries have a totalization treaty. Countries that presently have such treaties include: Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. It may be possible to claim coverage under your home country’s Social Security system even after you become a permanent resident, so it is not too late to have us examine this issue.
CHANGE OF ADDRESS FOR AN LPR
A) It is no longer necessary to report your address annually.
B) If you move, you are required to report your new address to the USCIS District Office within 10 days. Failure to report your address is a ground for deportation. The correct form for entering your change of address is Form AR-11, available on the Internet at www.uscis.gov. It is recommended that you file this form electronically at the USCIS website: www.uscis.gov. A copy of the confirmation number should be saved for your records.
C) If an I-864 Affidavit of Support on your behalf was filed, then you’ll need to file an I-865 Affidavit of Support Change of Address. This form is also available on the Internet. Follow the instructions on the form.
A) AS A U.S. PERMANENT RESIDENT, YOU ARE NOT A CITIZEN OF THE UNITED STATES: You are thus ineligible to hold public office, you may not vote, and you may not take advantage of certain tax provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. Voting in a U.S. political election before you are naturalized is a serious offense that will bar naturalization and could result in removal from the United States, even if you are told you may do so. Additionally, as a permanent resident, you may not petition to bring certain relatives to the United States. You may become a citizen by being naturalized.
B) WAITING PERIOD: An individual is eligible to become a U.S. citizen no earlier than five years after they have become a lawful permanent resident, unless they are married to U.S. citizen. (See D below.) The application can be filed three months before the actual eligibility date.
C) PHYSICAL PRESENCE AND RESIDENCE REQUIREMENT: At the time an application for naturalization is filed, an individual must establish that he or she has been physically present in the United States at least 30 of the previous 60 months, 18 of the previous 36 for certain married persons. (See D below.) A departure from the United States for a year or more will presumptively break the continuous residence requirement. A departure of less than six months normally will not break residence, while a departure for more than six months and less than one year will normally break the continuous residence requirement, unless adequately explained.
D) WAITING PERIOD FOR CERTAIN PERSONS MARRIED TO CITIZENS: An individual who is married to a U.S. citizen, and has lived with that individual for three years as a resident, is eligible to file for naturalization in three years, rather than five. This special rule does not apply if you are living apart from your spouse. The rule is applicable whether you obtained your “green card” as a result of this marriage. If your citizen-spouse has been assigned abroad by a U.S. corporation developing international trade or certain governmental international or nonprofit organizations, you may be eligible to naturalize immediately in an expedited procedure before you leave the United States, without regard to certain residence requirements.
E) PRESERVING RESIDENCE: If you leave the United States to work for a U.S. government agency, an international agency, certain religious organizations, or an American-owned company you may, under certain circumstances, qualify for relief from the continuous residence requirement. If you fail to seek this relief you may have to wait up to three years additional time to qualify for naturalization. You should apply for this relief before you depart the United States.
F) EXAMINATION: In addition to meeting the above requirements you will have to show that you are a person of good moral character and pass a test in U.S. government and history, as well as a simple test of your ability to read and write English. Long-time elderly residents and those with impairments may qualify for exemption from the English language requirements.
G) NATURALIZATION PROCEDURES: After filing of your N-400 application, you will receive a notice of examination within several months. At that examination you will be tested on government, history, and English language. In addition, USCIS officer may examine whether you received your permanent resident status lawfully and whether you remained with the spouse or employer who petitioned for you for a reasonable period of time after obtaining your permanent residence. Because the naturalization examiner is trained to challenge your permanent residence, it is wise to have representation when you file for naturalization.
H) DUAL CITIZENSHIP: The law of your country may allow you to retain your citizenship after you become a U.S. citizen. However, you will be treated like an American citizen and only an American citizen while on American soil or when traveling outside the United States on an American passport.
A) THE DRAFT: The United States does not currently have a draft or conscript soldiers; however, all men age 18 to 26 are required to register for Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday, or within 30 days of the time they become permanent residents of the United States. If you become a permanent resident before your 26th birthday, you are required to register for Selective Service. If you have a son who holds a “green card” or is a U.S. citizen, he is required to register within 30 days of his 18th birthday. Notwithstanding the fact that you have registered with the Selective Service, you may be exempt from military service based on your nationality. However, claiming such exemption could disqualify you from citizenship. Failure to register will also bar you from U.S. citizenship.
B) HOW TO REGISTER: You may complete your Selective Service Registration at any U.S. Post Office. The form is a simple postcard type document.
PETITIONING FOR RELATIVES
A) You may file a petition for a spouse or child under age 21 once you have been approved for permanent residence even though your Form I-551 Green Card has not arrived in the mail. There is a substantial waiting period under this category. You may also file for a child over age 21 who is unmarried, but the waiting period may be even longer and should your son or daughter then marry they will lose their ability to immigrate through this category.
B) Once you become a citizen the waiting period for a spouse or unmarried child can be eliminated. In addition you can file for a parent or a married child. There is no waiting period for a parent, but the waiting period for a married child is currently eight years or longer for all countries. In addition you can file a petition for a brother or a sister, but the waiting period is currently more than twenty years for several countries including Mexico and the Philippines. Please visit https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal/visa-law0/visa-bulletin.html to find the current waiting time for immigrant visas.
C) Our office can provide you with assistance and advice in processing a petition to classify eligible relatives under an appropriate category. Because the waiting lists are so long, we recommend that you file such petitions if there is a possibility that your relative may wish to come to the United States at some time in the future. Should your relative desire to come to the United States more quickly, we can advise you as to what other paths may be available. Please keep in mind that the mere filing of a petition may, in some cases, make it harder for your relative to obtain a visitor visa to come to the United States.