Use It or Lose It": Your Rights and Responsibilities

Revised: August 2006

After the work, effort and patience required to achieve Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR) status in the U.S., you are well advised to review your rights and responsibilites of LPR status and what is required to maintain your status.

WHAT IS "LPR" STATUS?: A Lawful Permanent Resident is entitled to reside permanently and work in the U.S. (except for a few employers). Evidence of this is either a valid and unexpired Form I-551 Stamp in the Alien's foreign passport or the Form I-551 Alien Registration Card (commonly referred to as a "Green Card", though they are not really green). (The first cards were issued in the 1950s and were green in color, and the name stuck.) The new Green Card is a high-tech document with sophisticated anti-counterfeit technology. See USCIS News Release. The Green Card should really be thought of as a "privilege" not a "right", because it is the property of the U.S. government and can be withdrawn or taken away under certain circumstances. The Green Card and LPR status allows the right to travel outside of the U.S., meaning that no additional visa is necessary for re-entry into the U.S. after short visits abroad. The I-551 Stamp or Green Card is sufficient proof of identity to secure a Social Security Card and state Driver's License.

There is no general right to vote with LPR status, nor a right to run for elective political office. A person with LPR status who is convicted and sentenced to a serious criminal felony, or certain crimes of "moral turpitude", or certain serious misdemeanors involving domestic violence, controlled substances or firearms can be subject to deportation or removal. For more on this topic, see: Immigration Consequences of Criminal Convictions. Males between the ages of 18 and 25 years with LPR status are required to register with Selective Service (military draft registration). As for immigration sponsorship, a person with LPR status can petition for resident visas for certain family members (namely, unmarried children and spouses) but the applicable quota waiting periods are currently so long that most people are usually better off pursuing and achieving U.S. citizenship first before filing such petitions.

Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) enjoy the benefits and protections of the U.S. Bill of Rights (the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, such as free speech, due process and equal protection) along with U.S. Citizens because the provisions of those Amendments protect "persons", not only citizens.

Conditional Legal Residency: If you achieved lawful residency through marriage to a U.S. citizen, your status is considered "conditional" for up to 24 months provided that you stay married to your U.S. citizen spouse. The same rules apply to conditional residency as LPR status. Conditional residents apply to change status at the end of 24 months expiration date on their Green Card with the Form I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residency.

Intent to Reside in U.S.
A Lawful Permanent Resident is expected to have an "intent" to permanently and continuously reside in the U.S., which is legal term of art. When a person's "intent" is in issue in a legal proceeding, "intent" is deemed by Immigration Service and the Courts to be a mixed question of law and fact. It is usually measured by all the facts and circumstances collectively about a person's residency such as home address, physical presence, the holding of a state driver's license, filing of state taxes, payment of rent, mortgage, or ultility bills, length and location of travels abroad, and so forth.
Federal Taxes
As concerns U.S. taxes, in general, a Lawful Permanent Resident is required to file federal income tax returns and pay federal taxes. Consult with your licensed tax accountant or professional about certain rules concerning filing exemptions and income exclusions which could be available.
Continuous Physical Presence without Excessive Time Length of Travels Abroad
If a Lawful Permanent Resident leaves the U.S. for more than twelve (12) months, he or she can be deemed to have "abandoned" the intent to remain in the U.S. with continuous physical presence, and thus risk losing permanent residency. Under these circumstances, it is strongly advised that the permanent resident apply for and secure before leaving the U.S. a Re-Entry Permit, Form I-131. (Even expected travel abroad for less than 12 months will require Travel Permission if you wish to avoid abandoning your Adjustment Petition. See USCIS News Release.) Having said that, most immigration attorneys and consultants are now advising permanent residents not to travel outside of the U.S. for more than six (6) months per calendar year. Our office encourages permanent residents to plan trips abroad for no more than ninety (90) days at a time, with no more than two (2) such trips in a calendar year. In special cases, where a permanent resident has remained outside of the U.S. for more than one year, he or she may be able to secure a Returning Resident Visa at the Consulate to re-enter the U.S., Form DS-117.

Further, inasmuch as post 09-11 security procedures have intensified around the nation's airports and seaports, we suggest that permanent residents be ready for greater questioning and scrunity after extended travels abroad, and that they carry their green card with them at all times, even when only traveling domestically and passing through local airports. Also, tough new rules now require Permanent Residents and visa holders to immediately notify Immigration Service of changes of home address. See Form AR-11.

A Lawful Permanent Resident can choose the option of becoming a U.S. Citizen through a process known as "Naturalization", Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. Naturalized Citizens cannot lose the right to remain or enter the U.S., can sponsor relatives abroad for resident visas faster, and can vote and run in elections. There are a number of requirements to qualify, and one of them is residency in the U.S. In general, a permanent residenct must hold residency for five (5) years [it is only three (3) years if the resident is married to a U.S. citizen for 24 months as "conditional" resident.] However, the resident must show that he or she was physically in the U.S. at least half this time, or thirty (30) months. Extended absenses from the U.S. can "break" this required period of continuous physical presense. In some cases, the filing of a special petition can preserve eligiblity for naturalization during an absence abroad. Form N-470 Application to Preserve Residency.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION on the topic of Lawful Residency and Naturalization, please visit:
1. USCIS "Lawful Permanent Residency"
2. USCIS "Citizenship Through Naturalization"

Best Regards,

Gary Bala
USA Immigration Attorney
Pennsylvania USA


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Gary Bala, USA Immigration Attorney.