Permanent resident status is granted to individuals who intend to live in the United States long-term and eventually apply for citizenship. As a permanent resident, also known as a green card holder, you have the privilege of living and working in the United States permanently, but there are ways to lose this status. Permanent residence comes with a set of rules that the applicant must commit to and comply with, and violating these rules can trigger a removal (deportation) process and the loss of permanent resident status.
Here are the five most common ways this can happen:
1. Spending Extended Periods Outside the United States
Permanent residents who spend more than 12 months outside the United States may lose their status if the U.S. government determines that they have abandoned their permanent residence. Even shorter periods outside the United States can trigger loss of status. Upon returning to the United States, permanent residents who have spent a significant amount of time abroad will be assessed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, who may determine that these individuals had the intention to live permanently outside the United States and, therefore, have abandoned their residence status. CBP officers can also initiate removal proceedings against these individuals. Additionally, individuals who do not file their tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) while living outside the United States may also face removal proceedings.
There are ways to spend a long period of time outside the United States without losing permanent resident status. Green card holders have the option to apply for a reentry permit before leaving the United States; these permits can extend their stay outside the United States for up to 24 months. U.S. government personnel and their families who are green card holders can stay abroad during their official assignment time without losing their residence status. Green card holders working in the United States but living in Canada or Mexico are also exempt from losing their permanent resident status due to extended periods outside the United States.
Obtaining a Visa Again
Immigrants who have lost their permanent resident status and wish to return to the United States must apply for a new immigrant visa. Typically, a U.S. relative can file an I-130 immigrant petition, and the immigrant applies for consular processing after USCIS approves the visa petition. In some cases, former permanent residents can apply for a returning resident visa. This requires evidence of the applicant’s long-term ties to the United States. The applicant must also be able to explain why the extended stay outside the United States was beyond their control and that they always intended to return. The evidence standards required in returning resident visas can be quite rigorous, so it is important to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.
2. Using Form I-407 to Voluntarily Abandon a Green Card
Every year, several thousand people voluntarily renounce their permanent residence in the United States by filing Form I-407, Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status. The most common reason for doing this is to avoid paying taxes in the United States (which permanent residents are required to do), although there are many people who voluntarily give up their U.S. green cards for various reasons.
In some cases, CBP officers may ask certain individuals who have been living abroad for a long time and are believed to have abandoned their U.S. residence to sign Form I-407 and voluntarily deport themselves from the United States. However, if the person wishes to maintain their permanent residence, they are not obligated to sign the form and have the right to defend themselves in removal proceedings.
3. Fraud and Intentional Misrepresentation
Fraud or intentional misrepresentation of facts when preparing an application, submitting evidence, or during interviews with immigration officials will create significant problems in the future that can result in the loss of permanent resident status and deportation proceedings.
The two most common forms of fraud resulting in the loss of permanent resident status are marriage fraud and nonimmigrant visa fraud.
Dishonest individuals may use fraudulent marriages of convenience with a U.S. citizen as a fast track to a green card. Some common marriage fraud schemes include:
- Paying a U.S. citizen to marry a foreigner.
- A U.S. citizen marrying a foreigner solely as a favor to grant immigrant status.
- Deceiving a U.S. citizen into believing their marriage is legitimate, when it was only done to obtain a green card.
- Pre-arranged mail-order marriages where both the U.S. citizen and the foreigner know the marriage is fraudulent.
Foreigners applying for temporary nonimmigrant visas to the U.S. must convince an immigration officer that they will return to their home country at the end of their visa period. Failure to return and staying in the U.S. after the visa has expired is considered a violation of immigration rules. For example, entering the U.S. on a B-2 visitor visa with the premeditated intention to marry and file Form I-485 to adjust status would be a violation of visa terms and considered nonimmigrant visa fraud.
4. How Criminal Activity Affects Permanent Resident Status
In general, a permanent resident can face removal proceedings if convicted of certain types of criminal offenses, usually violent crimes or any other serious criminal activity that involves jail time.
A comprehensive list of crimes resulting in deportation proceedings for permanent resident holders is beyond the scope of this article. Anyone caught in such a situation should consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can analyze their specific case and provide guidance. Although criminal defense attorneys theoretically have an obligation to inform their clients about immigration consequences when pleading guilty, they are not as familiar with those aspects of the law as immigration attorneys. Even if your criminal defense attorney assures you that your record will be expunged or erased, there may still be serious consequences for green card holders, so it’s best to speak with an experienced immigration attorney first.
A general rule is that deportation proceedings will be initiated against any green card holder who:
- Is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude and is punished with at least one year of jail time.
- Is convicted of two or more separate crimes involving moral turpitude that did not arise from a single criminal scheme.
- Is convicted of an aggravated felony.
Note that even if immigration authorities do not initiate removal proceedings against a permanent resident who has been arrested and charged, they will find it difficult to renew their green card or apply for citizenship, as previous arrests or convictions will be considered a violation of permanent residence rules.
Permanent residents who have been convicted of serious crimes triggering deportation proceedings will not be deported immediately. These individuals have the right to defend themselves before an immigration judge in an immigration court and also have the right to appeal any deportation order.
5. Failure to Act at the End of the Conditional Residence Period
Certain special classes of permanent residents are “conditional residents.” Foreign spouse entrepreneurs or immigrant spouse classes receive what is known as a two-year conditional green card. These are different from regular 10-year green cards because they cannot be renewed at the end of the two-year period.
Foreign spouses or immigrant investors holding these conditional green cards must file a “removal of conditions” petition in the 90-day period before their two-year conditional green card expires. Otherwise, they will lose their permanent resident status and be eligible for deportation.
Individuals who have received conditional green cards through marriage must file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence. Entrepreneur or immigrant investors must file Form I-829, Entrepreneur Petition to Remove Conditions. In both cases, the petition must be filed within the 90 days before their 2-year residence card expires.
Worried about Permanent Resident Status? Citizenship is the best way to maintain your legal status in the United States.
The ultimate goal of any lawful permanent resident is to obtain U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens are protected from all sorts of sanctions that could result in deportation. Serious criminal convictions that would normally lead to deportation proceedings against permanent residents do not apply to citizens. The only way a naturalized U.S. citizen can be subject to deportation orders from immigration officials is if they fraudulently obtained their green card and/or citizenship in the first place.