As an immigration lawyer, I see too many people who do not take care to protect their permanent residence (“green card") status after USCIS grants permanent resident status. Permanent resident status is not permanent, especially if one travels abroad for extended periods of time.
1. Returning to the United States in Permanent Resident Status After travel abroad one must be readmitted to the U.S. at a port of entry. By law the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer is to establish that the foreign national: acquired LPR status in accordance with the immigration law; has retained, and not abandoned, LPR status since the time it was granted; and, is “returning to an un-relinquished lawful permanent residence after a temporary visit abroad." Every returning LPR may be questioned on the issue of abandonment of LPR status, even though s/he presents a valid entry document.
Presenting your “green card" or Permanent Resident Card to the CBP Inspector after an absence of less than one year is no assurance that a lawful permanent resident (LPR) will be readmitted to the United States. The permanent resident card is a valid re-entry document; it is not evidence that one is returning from a “temporary visit abroad."
Returning LPR’s have the burden to establish the absence from the U.S. was intended to be temporary, and his/her actions were consistent with the intention of a temporary absence. Returning permanent residents have the burden of establishing their intention to remain, and not abandon, LPR status.
Relevant indicia of the LPR’s intention to maintain LPR status include:
The more of these questions that can be answered affirmatively by the returning LPR, the more likely it is that CBP will consider that s/he maintained LPR status.
Contrary to mistaken popular belief among many LPRs, extensive travel abroad with brief return visits to the U.S. is not sufficient to maintain LPR status. I have seen too many LPRs come to me for help after spending most of their time abroad with brief “touchdown" trips back to the U.S. In these circumstances, CBP particularly scrutinizes brief annual return visits to the U.S. on tickets both originating and terminating in a foreign country, especially if those trips are to vacation or resort destinations.
If CBP considers the LPR has abandoned permanent resident status the LPR can be placed into removal proceedings.
The best form of proof that an LPR did not intend to abandon permanent resident status is a USCIS-issued Re-Entry Permit, applied for prior to departure.
2. Valid Entry Documents for LPRs Valid entry documents for returning LPRs include:
3. Permanent Residents Have Rights A returning LPR has the right to appear before an Immigration Judge if his/her status is questioned by a CBP Officer. If your status is questioned on abandonment, please do not sign a document offered by CBP indicating you abandoned LPR status. Once a person signs an abandonment, their permanent resident status is gone and normally impossible to recover.
4. Tax Considerations for LPRs All permanent residents remain obliged to file U.S. tax returns while living abroad, in the same way as U.S. citizens; the amount of tax owed may vary, but the tax return must be filed. Failure to file the tax return will result in USCIS determination of loss of LPR status.
5. Conclusion Permanent Residents who travel must be sure they have proper documentation to allow them to return to the United States. Those who are contemplating repeated absences from the United States, or a single absence of long duration, should seek legal counsel on the best means to preserve their right to return to the U.S. LPRs should be sure to file U.S. income tax returns each year that they earn income, whether or not from sources in the U.S., so that their tax compliance documents their intention to maintain permanent resident status.