Permanent resident status is granted to people who intend to live in the United States for the foreseeable future and eventually apply for citizenship. While green card holders have the privilege of living and working in the United States permanently, there are ways you can lose your permanent resident status. Permanent residency comes with a set of rules that the applicant must agree to and abide by, and violating these rules may trigger removal (deportation) proceedings and the loss of permanent resident status.
Here are the five most common ways you can lose your permanent resident status:
1. Spending Extended Periods Outside the United States
Extended periods of time spent outside the United States are just one of the ways you can lose your permanent resident status. Permanent residents who spend more than 12 months outside the United States can lose their status as if the U.S. government determines that they have abandoned their permanent residency. Even shorter amounts of time outside the U.S. can trigger abandonment. Upon return to the U.S., permanent residents who have spent an inordinate amount of time abroad will be assessed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, who may determine that such individuals intended to live outside the United States permanently and have thus abandoned their residency status. CBP officers may also put these individuals in removal proceedings. Furthermore, individuals who neglect to file their income taxes with the IRS while living outside the U.S. may also have removal proceedings triggered against them.
There are ways to spend an extended period of time outside the U.S. without losing permanent resident status. Green Card holders have the option of applying for a reentry permit before leaving the U.S. – these permits can typically extend their stay outside the U.S. for up to 24 months. U.S. government personnel and their families who are green card holders are allowed to stay abroad for the length of their official overseas assignment without losing their permanent residency status. Green card holders who work in the U.S. but live across a border in Canada or Mexico are also exempt from losing their permanent residency due to being outside the U.S. for extended periods of time.
Reacquiring a Visa
Immigrants who have lost permanent resident status and want to return to the United States must re-apply for a new immigrant visa. Usually, a U.S. relative may file an I-130 immigrant petition and the immigrant applies via consular processing after USCIS approves the visa petition. In some cases, the former permanent resident may 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 U.S. was beyond their control and that they always intended to return. The standards of evidence needed in returning resident visas can be quite stringent, making it imperative to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.
2. Using Form I-407 to Voluntary Surrender a Green Card
One of the ways you can lose your permanent resident status is to voluntarily cancel it. Each year several thousand people voluntarily give up their U.S. permanent residency by filing form I-407, Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status. The most common reason for doing this is to escape paying U.S. taxes (which permanent residents must do), although there are many who voluntarily abandon their U.S. green cards for a variety of reasons.
In certain cases, CBP officers may ask certain individuals abroad who have been living overseas for a long time, and who they believe have abandoned their U.S. residence, to sign Form I-407 and voluntarily deport themselves from the U.S. If the individual wishes to continue their permanent residency however, they are under no obligation to sign the form and have a right to defend themselves in removal proceedings.
3. Fraud and Willful Misrepresentation
Fraud or willful misrepresentation of the facts while preparing an application, submitting evidence, or during interviews with immigration officials will create significant problems down the road and is one of the most common ways you can lose your permanent resident status.
The two most common avenues for fraud that results in a loss of permanent resident status are marriage fraud and nonimmigrant visa fraud.
Dishonest individuals can use fraudulent marriages of convenience to a U.S. citizen as a fast path to a green card. Some common marriage fraud schemes include:
- Paying a U.S. citizen to marry a foreign national
- U.S. citizen marries a foreign national as a favor solely to grant them immigrant status
- Defrauding a U.S. citizen into believing that their marriage is legitimate, where in reality it was only done to obtain a green card
- Prearrange Mail-order marriages where both U.S. citizen and foreign national knows that the marriage is fraudulent
- Visa lottery fraudulent marriages
Nonimmigrant Visa Fraud
Foreign nationals applying for temporary U.S. nonimmigrant visas must convince an immigration agent that they will return to their home country at the end of their visa period. If they don’t return and remain in the U.S. after their visa period ends, this is considered a violation of immigration rules. For example, entering the U.S. on a B-2 visitor’s visa with the pre-planned intent of getting married and filing Form I-485 to adjust status would be a violation of the visa terms and be considered nonimmigrant visa fraud.
4. Criminal Activity
Generally speaking, a permanent resident holder can be put under removal proceedings if he or she is convicted of certain types of criminal offences – usually violent crimes or any other serious criminal activity that is punishable by jail time.
An exhaustive list of crimes that result in deportation proceedings for permanent resident holders is beyond the scope of this article – anyone caught in such a predicament must consult an experienced immigration attorney who can analyze their specific case and offer counsel. While in theory criminal attorneys have an obligation to advise their clients of any immigration consequences of pleading guilty, in practice they are not as well versed in those aspects of the law as immigration lawyers. Even if your criminal attorney assures you that your record will be erased or expunged, there may still be severe consequences for green card holders, so it is best to speak to an experienced immigration attorney first.
A general rule of thumb is that deportation proceedings will be conducted against any green card holder who:
- Is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude and punishable by at least one year in jail;
- Is convicted of two or more separate crimes involving moral turpitude which did not arise out of a single scheme of misconduct; or
- Is convicted of an aggravated felony.
Bear in mind that even if immigration authorities do not start removal proceedings against a permanent resident who has been arrested and charged, he or sure will have a hard time renewing their green card or applying for citizenship, as prior arrests or convictions will be seen as a breach of permanent residency rules.
Permanent residents who have been convicted of serious crimes that trigger deportation proceedings will not be removed straight away. These individuals will be given the right to defend themselves before a judge in immigration court and also have the right of appeal against any deportation orders.
5. Failing to Act at The End of Conditional Residency Period
Certain special classes of permanent residents are “conditional residents”. Entrepreneurs or foreign spouse immigrant classes are given 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 born spouses or foreign investor immigrants who are recipients of these conditional green cards need to file a “removal of conditions” petition in the 90-day period before the expiry of their two-year conditional green card. Otherwise, they will lose their permanent residency status and be eligible for deportation.
Those who have received marriage conditional green cards need to file Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence. Entrepreneurs or foreign investors must file Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions. In either case, the application must be filed in the 90 days before their 2-year green card expires.
Citizenship Is the Best Way to Maintain Your Legal U.S. Status
The ultimate goal of any legal permanent resident is to obtain U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens are protected from all kinds of penalties that would result in deportation. Serious criminal convictions that would normally result in deportation proceedings against permanent residents do not apply to citizens. The only way a naturalized U.S. citizen can be subjected to deportation orders by immigration officials is if he or she fraudulently obtained their green card and/or citizenship in the first place.