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 associated with it. However, permanent residents enjoy many rights that are not available to persons with other types of immigrant statuses.

There are several ways to obtain 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, 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 specific rights, including 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, according to local and state restrictions
  • Attend public schools and universities

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, like applying for a temporary work permit or a temporary travel document.

Can Permanent Resident Rights be Lost?

There are two basic ways in which permanent resident rights can be lost:

  • Abandonment: For various personal reasons, an immigrant can voluntarily abandon their permanent resident status 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 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 involuntarily lost, the person becomes immediately removable from the U.S. The person will be required to leave the U.S. as soon as possible, or else 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 given to 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. They are required to abide by the same duties associated with permanent resident status. Failure to renew a conditional permanent resident card will result in the loss of status.

Can I Travel Outside the U.S. as a Permanent Resident?

A permanent resident may travel outside the U.S., but must present the valid alien registration card when re-entering the U.S. A permanent resident should travel with a valid passport.

Each time you return to the U.S., you are subject to the same grounds of inadmissibility as when you were approved for permanent resident status, such as health-related concerns, certain criminal activity, terrorism, national security, public charge, willful misrepresentation, and false claims to U.S. citizenship.

Am I Allowed to Vote in U.S. Elections?

Only citizens of the United States are permitted to vote in elections.

Can I Lose My Permanent Residence?

You may be placed in removal proceedings and become subject to deportation if you commit certain crimes.

Suppose you remain outside the U.S. for extended periods of time (typically more than six months at a time). In that case, the immigration authorities may look at your situation to determine if you have abandoned your intention to make the U.S. your permanent home. Any one-year absences lead to the presumption that you have abandoned your permanent residence. It is extremely difficult to overcome that presumption.

If you know you will be outside the U.S. for an extended time, you may apply for a re-entry permit before your departure. A re-entry permit is typically issued with a two-year validity. A re-entry permit does not guarantee that you will be granted entry to the U.S., but it can assist in establishing your intention to reside permanently in the U.S.

What Are My Responsibilities as a Permanent Resident?

Permanent residents must:

  • File U.S. income tax returns
  • Obey all laws of the U.S., states, and localities
  • Register for the Selective Service (if you are male and between ages 18-25)
  • Support the democratic form of government
  • Notify the USCIS of any changes of address using Form AR-11

Up to 6 months before the expiration date of your alien registration card, you may apply for a renewal of the card by filing Form I-90.

If you are a conditional permanent resident, you must use Form I-751.

Can Permanent Residents Sponsor Family Members to Come to the U.S.?

Permanent residents are eligible to petition for close family members (spouse and unmarried children) to receive permanent residence. Close family members will be considered “preference relatives.” Only a limited number of immigrant visas are available to people in this category per year. Relatives are likely to spend many years on a waiting list before entering the United States or getting a green card.

When Do Permanent Residents Become Eligible to Apply for U.S. Citizenship?

After a certain length of time – five years in most cases, three years for spouses of U.S. citizens – permanent residents may apply to become a U.S. citizen through a process called naturalization.

Additional requirements for naturalization include:

  • Good moral character
  • Ability to read, write and speak English
  • Understanding of U.S. history and government
  • Continuous residence in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 5 years before the application for naturalization and physical presence in the U.S. for at least half that time
  • Residence in the state or USCIS district where the application is made for at least 3 months before the application

The application is filed using Form N-400.

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 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.