How To Maintain Your Green Card

When granted lawful permanent resident status, you want to keep it. In most cases, you might have waited many months or even years to receive this status. The advantages of a green card are plentiful. With a green card, you can live permanently in the United States, you can travel in and out of the country, sponsor relatives for green cards, and apply for benefits. Losing a green card is risky, especially with ever-tightening rules and restrictions. All permanent residents must ensure that this status remains permanent with no issues.

How Do You Maintain Green Card Status?

If you have a green card status, there are several steps to maintain it. Following these steps can help, especially if you want to seek naturalization in the future. 

Pay Taxes

Paying taxes is an integral part of being a permanent resident. For that reason, you must file income tax returns like a U.S. resident. Any type of income needs to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If necessary, you must also report income to local, city, and state tax departments. If an individual does not file an income tax return while living outside of the United States for an extended period, or you file as a “non–resident” on your tax returns, the government might use that as evidence you have abandoned your permanent residency status. You never want to hide any income from the government, or you can face penalties or criminal charges. 

Obey The Law

When you have a green card, you must obey all of the laws in the United States. A Lawful permanent resident convicted of certain crimes may face deportation, or it can prevent an individual from becoming a U.S. citizen in the naturalization process. Some of the crimes that can affect a green card status include: 

  • Crimes listed as aggravated felonies, which are deemed violent and carry one-year prison terms
  • Control Substance-related offenses
  • Terrorist activities
  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Sexual assault of a child
  • Illegal trafficking of firearms, people, or drugs
  • Moral turpitude crimes that steal, defraud, inflict, or threaten physical harm

There are plenty of grave consequences for permanent residents if you engage in the following activities:

  • Lie to get immigration benefits for you or another person
  • Claim you are a United States citizen
  • Commit bigamy
  • Vote in a local or federal election when not a citizen
  • Fail to file tax returns
  • Fail to provide court-ordered support for children
  • Help someone illegally enter the United States

If you have committed or been convicted of an offense, consulting with immigration attorneys may help your case.

Related: Can Green Card Holders Vote? What You Need To Know In 2022 

Register With the Selective Service 

selective service is a vital step to maintaining a green card

Any male green card holder between the ages of 18 and 25 must register with the United States Selective Service. What is the Selective Service? By registering, you are informing the United States government that you are available to serve in one of the United State Armed Forces. The United States does not conduct a military draft, meaning that permanent residents and citizens do not have to serve in the Armed Forces unless they affirmatively enlist. However, if there were to be a draft in the United States, these individuals would be eligible for service. 

Inform DHS When You Move

If a green card holder moves from one address to another, they are required to inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the new address. Within ten days of the move, the individual must file a Form AR-11 (Alien’s Change of Address card). Fortunately, this file can be filed free of charge, and the green card holder can file it online. 

Don’t Leave the Country for Extended Periods

Leaving the country can jeopardize the status of a green card. Here are a few things to know before leaving the United States. 

How Long Can I Be Absent From the U.S.?

If you have green card status, you may want to leave the country to visit family members or go on a vacation. However, how long can you be absent from the United States? Leaving the country for less than six months is usually not a problem. Keep in mind that any absences between six and 12 months can trigger scrutiny by the USCIS. Any absence for more than 12 months could lead to “rebuttable presumption,” where your legal permanent resident status can be abandoned. If you want to stay away for more than six months, you need to show proof that you will be living in the United States permanently.  

In some situations, the USCIS can excuse a temporary absence if a particular event occurs or ends on a specific date. These examples include:

  • Temporary placement abroad by your company
  • “Round the world” travel
  • Sabbatical
  • Traveling to liquidate abroad assets, care for a sick relative, or research a project

Related: Divorce After Green Card? What Happens Next

What Proof of Intent Will USCIS Accept?

Every case is different. The USCIS looks at the “totality of the circumstances.” What may apply to your case will not work for other individuals. For that reason, it is essential to talk to experienced immigration attorneys in Irvine or Orange County. Many legal permanent resident holders believe that visiting the United States once a year or owning property will maintain their status. However, many will have a home or continue to work in another country. As a result, it can be seen as abandoning their green card status in the United States. 

Evidence matters in these cases. The USCIS will look at family ties in the country, along with assets, property, club memberships, tax returns, associations to another country, frequency of abroad travels, and other evidence that shows the holder intends to live in the United States as a permanent resident. Usually, this evidence is often enough proof of intent to the USCIS that the green card holder will continue to live in the United States. 

Can I “Pre-Apply” for Re-Entry If Outside the United States for a Long Time?

Yes. A Re-entry Permit with Form I-131 informs the USCIS that you will return to the United States. A re-entry permit can help you avoid difficult questions at the border as you re-enter the country. The evidence with this permit needs to be carefully documented and show an exact return date. Remember that the border agent may still question you at the airport about your intent to live in the United States, even with a re-entry permit. 

Currently, these applications are taking about four months to complete. The applicant must file them while you are still in the United States. For that reason, you will want to plan ahead. Extended absences can interrupt the continued presence required for an individual to apply for citizenship at a later date. 

Other Considerations for Maintaining Your Green Card

A couple talking with an immigration lawyer about adjustment of status procedures.

Those methods above can help to protect your green card status, but the USCIS can use discretion to determine whether you have an abundance in your residence. Some of these circumstances can place your situation under scrutiny, such as:

  • Leaving the country for longer than six months and on a frequent basis
  • Have no or few financial obligations in the United States
  • Dependants and other family members live in another country
  • Nor regularly employed in the U.S.

Maintaining a green card can help you apply for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process after living as a permanent resident for five years. However, this period is shortened to: 

  • Three years if the permanent resident is married to a United States citizen and they have received their green card through the spouse
  • Four years if the permanent residency was received through refugee status or political asylum

Legal permanent residents can submit their naturalization application up to 90 days before meeting the residency requirement. 

When you maintain your green card status, you can ensure that you can become naturalized to become a U.S. citizen and enjoy all of those rights, such as:

  • The right to run for political office
  • The right to vote
  • The freedom of fear of deportation
  • The freedom to travel anywhere in the world without losing their resident status
  • The ability to apply for certain jobs

Related: My Green Card Expired. What Should I Do Next?

Final Word

It can be a long and challenging process to acquire permanent resident status. For that reason, you need legal assistance to help you maintain your green card. Experienced immigration lawyers in Irvine and Orange County can assess your situation to determine how to protect your legal status. If necessary, these professionals can fight for your status in court. U.S. citizenship is the final step in an immigrant's journey. An immigration attorney can guide you through every step of the process. 

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