Acquiring a Green Card is a lengthy and often expensive process. Many Legal Permanent Residents (LPR’s) relax when they obtain a Green Card, believing that they can finally travel freely back and forth or even relocate to their home countries and can always reenter the U.S. using their Green Cards as a travel document. While a lengthy absence from the U.S. does not automatically cancel the LPR status of an alien, an extended absence may trigger the inquiry of the USCIS as to the alien’s intention to remain a permanent resident of the U.S. Further, unlike citizenship which cannot be taken away, LPR’s can have their Green Cards taken away for committing certain crimes. As a result, many LPR’s mistakenly believe that acquiring a Green Card is the biggest hurdle to clear. However, as many of my clients have experienced, maintaining their Green Card can be as tricky as acquiring one.
Abandonment of Green Card
Although often referred to as the Green Card, the Legal Permanent Resident Card is exactly what the name implies. Many Green Card holders traveling back to the United States are often shocked when they are detained at airports and other ports of entry and questioned by agents about their intent to reside permanently in the United States. Upon conclusion of questioning, many LPR’s are then given a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge who will determine whether or not they retain their Green Card and are subject to removal proceedings (deportation). If removed from the U.S. an LPR loses their Green Card and may be barred from re-entry to the U.S. for up to fifteen years depending on the circumstances.
The intent of an LPR to remain a permanent resident in the U.S. is a key factor in the USCIS’s and Immigration Court’s determination of whether the LPR has abandoned his/her permanent residence in the U.S. However, a mere oral or written statement of intent to remain a U.S. resident is not sufficient. Apart from the length of the absence from the U.S., the USCIS and Immigration Court’s will look to many objective facts that reflect the LPR’s intent. The major factors that are considered in determining the LPR’s intent include:
Therefore, it is critical for LPR’s to be careful regarding the length and number of their travels abroad. In addition, it is important to maintain ties to the U.S. that indicate an LPR’s intent to remain permanently in the U.S., otherwise, the LPR risks abandonment of their Green Card and loss of legal status.
Committing a Crime
The most common way that people lose their right to a green card is by committing a crime. Unlike what is commonly believed, it doesn’t have to be a major crime or a felony. There is no set list that tells you which crimes make you removable. For example, a person can be removed from the United States for helping someone enter the United States illegally, for committing domestic violence, for possessing a small amount of drugs, or for any crime that’s considered morally wrong (such as fraud, theft, a crime with the intent of doing great bodily harm, or a sex offense). Some of these crimes are misdemeanors that may not be punishable with time in jail, however, they may subject a Green Card holder to removal proceedings.
In the event of criminal proceedings, LPR’s often need both a criminal and immigration attorney. The outcome of the criminal proceedings can have a significant impact on the immigration proceedings. For example, although a guilty plea may result in no jail time in criminal court, it may result in deportation in immigration court.
Maintaining Your Green Card
As noted above being a Green Card holder is a privilege. That privilege can be quickly stripped away if not maintained. This includes being cautious of excessively long trips abroad and not committing crimes. Having a Green Card is as close as someone can get to being a citizen and is often times the gateway to citizenship. However, it’s important to know the steps of maintaining a Green Card after acquiring one.
Ryan A. Hintzen
The Hintzen Law Firm, PLLC