Written by attorney Philip C. Curtis

The Lawful Permanent Resident's Handbook: A Practical Guide to Your Status

Introduction to LPR Status

Lawful permanent residents or “LPR's" are foreign nationals who have been granted permission to live and work in the United States indefinitely. While one can live in the United States as an LPR for his entire life, LPR status is not the same as citizenship. An LPR does not have the same rights as a United States citizen and LPRs can lose their LPR status and are subject to removal from the United States under certain circumstances.

It is extremely important for all new LPR's to fully understand what it means to be a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Most importantly, all new LPR's should know understand how to avoid losing status as a LPR.

This Guide was written to provide some general information to new LPR's so that they may better fully understand their new status in the United States and how to maintain it. This Guide also contains some other information regarding issues that may arise during the course of one's lawful permanent residency.

Actions that May Result in the Removal of an LPR

This section is lawful permanent residency 101 and includes a list of things that an LPR should never do and which may result in his or her removal from or inadmissibility to the United States. Before we move on to examine some of the specific acts than can result in removal or inadmissibility of an LPR it is important to understand the difference between removal and inadmissibility as well as the context in which each commonly arises.

Removal is a legal process during which a foreign national who is physically present in the United States is physically removed from the U.S. In the case of LPR's, removal proceedings may be initiated after an LPR is convicted of a serious crime. Removal proceedings may also be initiated during renewal of residency or application for citizenship. In the common case, an LPR will apply to renew his or her LPR card or will apply for citizenship. During the application process, the USCIS reveals that the LPR has been convicted of a serious crime and removal proceedings are therefore initiated.

In contrast, inadmissibility only arises when an LPR is returning to the United States after traveling abroad. Each time an LPR returns to the United States he or she must apply for admission and therefore is subject to any applicable grounds of inadmissibility. For example, let's suppose that John Smith is an LPR and that he is convicted of assaulting his wife and that four years after his conviction he takes a vacation to Canada to do some fishing. When Mr. Smith attempts to return to the United States after his trip it is likely that the border officials will see his conviction and could deny him admission to the United States.

Criminal Convictions

I think that most LPR's probably know that if they rob a bank or murder someone they will no longer be welcome in the United States. However, there are several less serious crimes that could cause serious problems for an LPR.

LPRs are also subject to removal from the U.S. if they are convicted of serious crimes or crimes that are considered “crimes of moral turpitude." Generally speaking, crimes of moral turpitude are serious crimes such as felonies or crimes for which a sentence of a term of imprisonment of 1 year or more may be imposed but can also include some misdemeanor offenses. However, there is no firm definition and any number of crimes can be construed as a crime of moral turpitude. This means that you could be deported even if you do not serve any time in jail for the criminal conviction. For example some serious driving related offenses such as drunk driving could be considered crimes of moral turpitude. This is especially true in the case of multiple alcohol or drug related driving or possession offenses. While one conviction for drunk driving may not rise to the level of a crime of moral turpitude, multiple convictions could rise to this level.

Thus, it is critical that you immediately seek legal counsel if you are arrested and charged with any crime. It is also important that the attorney who you retain understands the immigration consequences that may occur if you are convicted of or enter a plea of guilty or nolo contendre to certain crimes. It is also very important that you retain experienced legal counsel to assist you in dealing with any criminal convictions that may be uncovered during renewal of your green card, an application for citizenship or upon returning to the United States after a trip abroad. (If you have a criminal conviction and are planning a trip outside of the United States be sure to consult with an immigration attorney BEFORE you leave. There is little if anything an immigration attorney will be able to do if you get detained at the border and denied entry.)

Economic Concerns

During your application for lawful permanent residency you were required to establish that you would not become a “public charge." If you obtained your residency because of marriage or some other close relationship to a U.S. Citizen they probably had to sign a document promising to repay the government if you ever received any public benefit.

In addition to the responsibility the U.S. Citizen petitioner will have for any public benefits you received, you may be subject to removal and deportation if you received public benefits and fail to repay them on demand.

So, if you run into financial troubles accepting government assistance may not be a good option.

Political & National Security Matters

An LPR may also be deported for engaging in activities that: 1) endanger public safety or national security; 2) oppose or advocate the control or over throw of the U.S. government by force or other unlawful means; and 3) are considered espionage.

Bottom line: terrorists, spies and those who advocate using force to overthrow the United States government are not welcome and will be promptly sent away.

Voting & Citizenship

LPRs do not have the right to vote. Do not vote or you may be subject to removal and will have a very hard time obtaining U.S. Citizenship.

LPRs are also not U.S. Citizens and should never claim to hold such status. LPRs who claim to be U.S. Citizens to obtain some public benefit are in violation of law and subject to removal.

Issues for Conditional LPR's

There are special provisions that apply to foreign national's who obtain their lawful permanent residency based on marriage to a U.S. Citizen if they have not been married for at least two years at the time of application for residency. In these cases, the LPR is subject to the provisions of the Marriage Fraud Act (MFA).

Essentially, the MFA provides that LPR status which is obtained by marriage to a U.S. Citizen is conditional for 2 years. Prior to expiration of your conditional green card, you and your spouse must file a petition requesting removal of the conditions on your residency. The procedure requires that you provide evidence that you and your spouse lived together as husband and wife and that the marriage was a bona fide marriage entered into in good faith. Accordingly, it is important that couples subject o the MFA carefully document their relationship so that there is sufficient evidence to establish that the marriage is legitimate. Such documentation includes such things as birth certificates for children born out of the marriage, joint bank and investment account statements, joint mortgage statements or similar documentation.

In the event that the marriage is terminated prior expiration of the conditional residency, the conditional resident may be denied a permanent lawful permanent resident status unless he or she can establish that the marriage was entered into in good faith but ended despite the couples best intentions. Conditional residents who are divorced or in a failing marriage and are faced with filing an I-751 should retain an experienced immigration attorney.

Travel Outside the U.S.

LPRs are entitled to leave the United States and apply for admission as a LPR returning to an un-relinquished domicile in the United States. However, lengthy trips abroad along with other factors may subject you to a risk that the ICE and/or USCIS may alleg that you have “abandoned" your LPR status and place you in removal proceedings. This typically occurs if the LPR has not been present in the United States for a period of more than 6 months and other factors indicate that the LPRs primary residence is not the United States. This should not be an issue if you plan to take trips abroad for durations of less than 6 months, have a bona fide residence in the U.S. and do not maintain a residence in another country. If you plan to take a trip abroad that will last longer than 6 months and/or the facts and circumstances of your particular situation may give the immigration officers cause to believe that the U.S. is not your residence, you should consult with an immigration attorney well in advance of your planned departure (at least 120 days.)

Finally, an LPR who travels outside the United States must have a valid I-551 (green card) in order to reenter the U.S. Be sure that your green card is not expired or won't expire during your trip abroad.

Registration and Change of Address

LPRs are required to carry their LPR cards at all times. LPR's are also required to notify the USCIS within 10 days if you move or change your address. You may filed your USCIS change of address form online at the USCIS website.

Renewing Your Green Card

All LPR cards have an expiration date. It is important that you plan ahead and schedule to apply to renew your LPR card at least 90 days before your current card will expire. To renew your LPR card you will need to complete and file Form I-90. This can be submitted electronically through the USCIS website.

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