How to maintain your American permanent resident status

Now that you’re the owner of a coveted American green card, you have an important job to do: maintain your status as a lawful permanent resident (“LPR”). As long as you are a LPR, you will be allowed to work and live in the United States, travel freely, and eventually apply for American citizenship.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) strictly enforces the rules that govern immigration status. The US has different requirements for LPRs who want to simply maintain their status versus LPRs who wish to become citizens – here’s everything you need to know.

How much time can I spend outside the US?

Unlike Canada, the US uses a qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) approach when determining whether a foreign national may maintain their LPR status. While Canada simply looks at the number of days LPRs spend outside the country in a given time period, USCIS analyzes whether you are maintaining “sufficient ties” to the US. 

The contextual factors being evaluated include: 

  • How long you remained outside the country
  • Why you were traveling
  • Whether you have a fixed return date
  • Whether you are filing your tax returns while abroad
  • Whether you are maintaining bank accounts, property, and a driver’s license while abroad
  • Where your family is located
  • Where your employer is located

Absences of six months or less do not typically pose an issue when it’s time to return to the US. Anything longer than that may raise a flag with the border agent who receives you at your point of entry: you may be required to explain your absence, though as long as you do so sufficiently, you should be able to reenter without any further obstacles.

When do I need a reentry permit?

In most cases, your green card is enough for you to be able to reenter the United States. However, if you plan on spending a continuous year (or more) abroad, you will be required to obtain a reentry permit. Reasons generally accepted to support such a permit include: a temporary work assignment abroad, caring for a sick relative, accompanying a foreign family member, etc. 

You will need to file an application from within the US before you leave, and book a biometrics appointment to take fingerprints and photos. Once the application is filed, you will be authorized to leave the country for an extended period of time. During this absence, you may need to return to complete your biometrics.

Once your permit has been approved, it will remain valid for two years. While it cannot be extended, you can apply for a new one, with justifications. Upon your return to the United States, a border agent may still ask you to explain your extended absence while taking into account the above mentioned criteria if they have suspicions that you have “abandoned” your permanent residency. 

Note that during this time, you are not accruing the physical and continuous presence required to meet the citizenship requirements.

What are the rules for permanent residents who wish to become citizens?

In order to be eligible for a citizenship application, lawful permanent residents must:

  • Continuously be a resident of the US for five years after obtaining their lawful permanent residence (three years for residents who obtained their status through sponsorship by they US citizens spouse)
  • Be physically present in the United States for at least half of that time (equivalent to two and a half years, or one and a half years for spouses of US citizens)

One must continue to respect continuous and physical presence throughout the application, until they become actual citizens.

As mentioned above, long-term absences (more than 6 months) might break the required continuity of residency. Any absence that lasts between six months and one year will automatically break your continuous residence, unless you can show a very strong reason to explain why you were required to leave (i.e. foreign assignment from an American employer or caring for a sick relative). 

If USCIS deems that you have been gone for too long, you may need to restart the process and begin accumulating the required time once again. 

What if I am planning to be abroad for one year or more?

Permanent residents who know they will be outside the US for at least one year may apply for USCIS special benefits to maintain their continuity.

To be eligible, you must have been physically present in the US as a permanent resident for one continuous year before applying for special benefits, with absolutely no absences. While you are living abroad, you must be employed by one of the following American entities:

  • The government
  • A research institute
  • A corporation that is involved in foreign development
  • An international organization in which the US is a member, as long as you did not work for the organization before you obtained your green card.

Complex situations require a wealth of experience

Immigration rules are complex at the best of times, and that is especially true when subjective or qualitative opinions come into play. Maintaining permanent residency in the United States is a very tricky topic, and even the slightest error can cause you to lose your status. An immigration lawyer can help you understand the intricacies of the American system and make sure you preserve your status at all times. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can help.

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