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How to Keep Your Green Card Privileges

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Is It possible to Lose My Green Card or Permanent Resident Status?

Once you receive Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, you are eligible to live and work permanently in the U.S. Your Green Card is the physical documentation of your LPR status. Lawful permanent resident privileges generally cannot be lost unless the person renounces their status or commits a violation of laws. The green card will be revoked and the person will lose their permanent resident status, along with all its related privileges. 

There are two basic ways that a person can lose their lawful permanent resident status and have their green card revoked:

  • Violations of law- this includes both criminal and civil violations, not just violations of immigration laws
  • Leaving the country for extended periods of time- LPR’s cannot leave the U.S. longer than a specified amount of time. Usually, trips outside the U.S. should not exceed one year

Thus, if you wish to keep your green card and lawful permanent resident status, you should avoid these two disqualifying circumstances.

What Violations Will Cause Me to Lose My Green Card?

One of the easiest ways to lose your green card privileges is to commit a violation of the law. Your lawful permanent resident status can be revoked for both criminal and civil violations (i.e., not just those offenses resulting in jail time). Also, serious offenses can be grounds for immediate deportation.

While minor violations may not cause you to lose your green card, most crimes involving “moral turpitude” are sufficient. These are crimes that involve socially offensive behavior such as lying, violence, stealing, etc. 

Finally, as a lawful permanent resident you are required to inform immigration authorities of any changes of address. Address changes must be reported within ten days of your move. This is actually one of the most common ways that an LPR can lose their green card or be deported. Though it may seem like a small technicality, this requirement is actually taken very seriously by the USCIS. This is because reporting your address demonstrates that you are not attempting to evade immigration authorities. Thus, it is important to keep your green card information up to date. 

Can I Travel outside the U.S.?

Generally speaking, yes. However, you should avoid taking trips outside the country for longer than one year. The USCIS will revoke your green card if it can be proven that you intend to make a different country your permanent home. Immigration authorities will search for clues and signals that you intend to make your true home outside of the country.

If you do stay outside of the U.S. for a period longer than one year, it may be difficult for you to re-enter the country. You may be required to submit additional paperwork such as a re-entry permit. This can involve unnecessary waiting periods. 

There is no solid rule for how long you can stay outside the U.S. or how often you need to re-enter the U.S. in order to maintain lawful permanent resident status. However, the following tips can be helpful:

  • Avoid taking trips outside the U.S. for longer than one year
  • If you must stay outside the country for over a year, consider filing for a re-entry permit in advance. This demonstrates your intent to return to the U.S.
  • Plan on returning to the country within six months of leaving- this should avoid any confusion or delays
  • Staying outside the U.S. for longer than one year may be permitted in rare instances involving unforeseen circumstances, such as an illness or other condition. You might need to provide verification of the unforeseen circumstances, such as a doctor’s note

Remember that the phrase “Lawful Permanent Resident” clearly implies that you intend to make the U.S. your permanent place of residence. If you take actions that contradict this intention, you could lose your green card.

Do I Need an Experienced Immigration Attorney for Green Card Issues?

If you are unclear about any of the green card requirements, you should contact an immigration attorney for advice. While immigration laws can be complex, a lawyer can help explain how the law applies to your individual situation. Also, in the event that you have violated the law or travel provisions, a lawyer can help determine what you should do in order to keep your green card. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 10-17-2014 03:28 PM PDT

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