A Lawfully Permanent Resident (LPR) is an immigrant who does not yet have citizen status, but is allowed to remain in the U.S. indefinitely. Permanent residency is the first step towards citizenship and all the rights and guarantees associate with it. However, permanent residents do enjoy many rights that are not available to persons with other types of immigrant statuses.

There are several avenues toward obtaining permanent resident status, most of which involve marriage to a U.S. citizen or being petitioned by a family member who is a citizen. After five years (four in some cases), a lawful permanent resident may apply for U.S. citizenship.

What are my rights as a Permanent Resident?

As a permanent resident, you will be issued a green card which implies that you have a number of rights. Some of these rights include the ability to:

  • Live permanently anywhere in the United States
  • Legally apply for work in the U.S.
  • Petition your spouse or unmarried children to immigrate to the U.S.
  • Obtain government benefits, including Social Security and Medicare, so long as you are eligible
  • Own real property in the U.S.
  • Obtain a driver’s license in your state of residence
  • Join specified branches of the U.S. Military
  • Leave and re-enter the U.S. under certain circumstances (though they are generally not eligible for automatic revalidation programs for non-immigrants)
  • Purchase and own a firearm, pursuant to local and state restrictions
  • Attend public schools and universities
Thus, as a permanent resident, you can exercise these rights so long as your LPR status is current and you have not committed any acts that would negatively affect your status.

Some of these rights may require obtaining further authorization from a government department, such as applying for a temporary work permit or a temporary travel document.

Can these permanent resident rights be lost?

Yes- there are two basic ways in which permanent resident rights can be lost:

  • Abandonment: For various personal reasons, an immigrant can voluntary abandon their permanent resident status. This is done by filing form I-407, Abandonment of Permanent Resident Status, at a U.S. Embassy. 
  • Involuntary Loss: Permanent Resident status can be lost if a person violates the terms governing their green card eligibility. Violations may include::
    • Committing a crime of “moral turpitude” or a crime that renders the person removable from the U.S., such as homicides, drug crimes, crimes involving fraud or lying, and other types of serious crimes.
    • Staying outside of the U.S. for more than 365 days
    • Moving to another country with the intent to stay there permanently
    • An investigation has revealed that the original application for permanent residence was fraudulent or deceitful
    • Not filing a required income tax return

If permanent resident status has been abandoned or involuntary lost, the person becomes immediately removable from the U.S. They will be required to leave the U.S. as soon as possible, or else they may face immediate deportation. In serious cases the person in question may be banned from re-entering the U.S. for several years or even permanently.

Failing to renew a permanent resident card will not automatically result in the loss of status, except in the case of conditional permanent residence.

Do persons with Conditional Permanent Resident status have the same rights?

Conditional permanent resident status may be conferred on persons who are engaged to marry a U.S. citizen. Persons with such status are allowed to stay in the U.S. subject to various conditions and restrictions.

Unless specifically stated, conditional permanent residents enjoy the same rights as ordinary permanent residents. Likewise, they are required to abide by the same requirements and duties associated with permanent resident status. As mentioned however, failure to renew a conditional permanent resident card will result in the loss of status.

Do I need a lawyer for a dispute over permanent resident rights?

Obtaining permanent residency is an important milestone for many immigrants. If you are involved in a dispute over your rights as an LPR, you may wish to consult with an attorney for representation or advice. Violations of permanent residency provisions are not treated lightly and can possibly result in deportation. You should not take any chances if you are unsure of your situation. Working with an immigration lawyer can keep you informed of your options.