If you’re a green card holder, you’re a step closer to becoming a U.S. citizen. But first, you must meet certain residency requirements. Generally, you must maintain continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S. to maintain your Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status. Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done. So we’ve compiled a simplified list of do’s and don’ts to help you keep up with the U.S. green card residency requirements.
The Do’s For a Lawful Permanent Resident
1. Meet the Continuous Residence Requirement
Although you can leave the United States as a green card holder, avoiding taking extended trips abroad is advisable. Living outside of the United States for over 6 months as a green card holder disrupts your period of continuous residence. In that case, you risk losing your permanent resident status and eligibility for naturalization.
On the other hand, too many short trips abroad may eventually affect your physical presence in the United States. This is because the time you spend abroad may accumulate to more than half the time you’re required to stay in the country within 5 years.
If that happens, you won’t be eligible for naturalization because you didn’t meet the continuous residence requirement. So while planning your short trips of less than 6 months to avoid disrupting your required continuous residence period, ensure that you keep track of the total time you spend in and out of the US. The continuous residence and physical presence requirements have a few exceptions. Below is an overview of the exceptions to continuous residence.
If you get a green card through marriage to a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship after three years of being a Lawful Permanent Resident. As a result, you’ll only need to be physically present in the United States for half that time, an equivalent of 18 months, instead of the usual 30.
You can also be exempt from continuous residence and physical presence residency requirements if you belong to the following categories:
- Members of the U.S. Armed Forces,
- U.S. government employees,
- Certain religious workers,
- Spouses, children, or parents of certain U.S. citizens,
- Certain employees who work as interpreters, translators, or in security-related positions,
- Employees of certain media organizations based abroad.
2. Do Apply for A Reentry Permit
If you must travel outside the United States for more than one year, you should obtain a re-entry permit, also known as a Travel Document or Form I-131, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This permit allows you to return to the United States without acquiring an immigrant visa from a U.S. consulate abroad. It also prevents the disruption of your continuous residence and proves that you haven’t abandoned your Lawful Permanent Residence in the United States.
Note that the re-entry permit is only valid for two years. However, you may renew it if you need more time abroad, but you must have concrete reasons for your continuous absence from the United States beyond the recommended timeframe. You’ll also need to prove that your temporary absence does not mean you have intentionally abandoned your permanent residence in the U.S.
Applying for a re-entry permit doesn’t guarantee re-entry into the U.S. as a returning resident. You’re still bound by the immigration laws and regulations as an LPR and you may be subject to scrutiny at different ports of entry, especially if you take an unusually long trip abroad.
3. Do Maintain Ties With the US while Traveling Abroad
Maintaining close ties to the United States while traveling abroad for extended periods is crucial to preserve your permanent residency status. Some of the things you can do to establish and maintain ties with the U.S. include:
- Maintaining your residence in the U.S. by paying rent and utility bills,
- Keeping your U.S. bank accounts and credit cards active,
- Keeping your family in the U.S.,
- Updating your driver’s license and state ID,
- Keeping your business or employment in the United States.
4. Do File Your Federal Tax Returns
Ensure you file all your tax returns, whether you’re in or out of the country, to avoid abandoning your permanent resident status (and also breaking tax laws in the country). This includes all applicable local, state, and city tax returns. Filing taxes demonstrates your ties with the U.S. and helps you maintain your eligibility for federal benefits such as Social Security and Medicare. Additionally, it proves that you’re a person of good moral character, justifying your eligibility for U.S. citizenship.
5. Do Renew Your Green Card
If you receive the two-year conditional green card, ensure you apply to remove conditions within 90 days of expiration. If you fail to apply for the removal of conditions on your green card, you risk losing your permanent resident status and may face removal proceedings.
6. Do Apply for U.S. Citizenship As Soon as You’re Eligible
Even though applying for U.S. citizenship isn’t mandatory, it relieves you from the complex immigration rules and regulations of maintaining Lawful Permanent Resident status. For instance, you’ll no longer worry about maintaining residence in the United States or physical presence while traveling abroad. You also won’t have to renew your green card after its expiry to maintain your LPR status. In other words, you’ll have the full rights and privileges of a U.S. citizen.
The Don’ts For a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)
Here are some of the things you should avoid as an LPR to maintain your residency status and eligibility for citizenship.
1. Don’t Commit Crimes
Engaging in criminal activity tarnishes your moral character and reduces your chances of becoming a U.S. citizen. You may risk losing your permanent resident status and face deportation if you commit crimes that make you inadmissible to the U.S. These criminal activities include but are not limited to the following:
- Aggravated felonies
- Human trafficking
- Sexual assault
- Drug trafficking
2. Don’t Refuse to Register With the U.S. Selective Service
Selective Service is a federal program that keeps data of eligible men aged between 18 and 25 for military conscription. This includes male U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent Residents, and immigrants, regardless of their migration statuses. Therefore, if you’re within this age bracket, you must register for the program unless you’re otherwise exempt.
Registering for Selective Service is also an eligibility requirement for naturalization. Failing to register not only violates the federal law but also makes you ineligible for naturalization. Other consequences of failing to register for Selective Service include:
- Hefty fines,
- Denial of certain federal benefits.
3. Don’t Forget to Notify the DHS When You Change Your Address
A permanent resident card allows you to live in the United States permanently and legally. However, it’s your responsibility to inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of any change in address if you move to a new location. You should do this within ten days of moving to your new address.
Failing to inform the DHS of your new address may result in serious immigration consequences. For example, you may miss important notices and official communication from the USCIS regarding your application for immigration benefits. And given that it’s a legal requirement, breaking this law may taint your moral character and eligibility for some immigration benefits.
4. Don’t Misrepresent Yourself
Even though you enjoy many rights and privileges as a Lawful Permanent Resident, there are numerous restrictions that set you apart from a U.S. citizen, at least for the time being. For instance, you’re ineligible to vote in U.S. elections or run for public office. You’re also subject to immigration laws and regulations, including deportation if you commit certain crimes. Do not falsely represent yourself as a U.S. citizen to obtain certain benefits.
Instead, ensure that you maintain your green card status to be eligible for citizenship through naturalization.
U.S. Green Card Residency Requirements Bottomline
Understanding the do’s and don’ts of U.S. green card residency requirements is crucial for maintaining permanent residency status and avoiding deportation. Despite the freedom and privileges that come with a green card, you’re solely responsible for ensuring that you abide by all the immigration rules and regulations for maintaining your status.