A U.S. green card, or lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, is designed for individuals who intend to establish a permanent life in the United States. As in many other countries, maintaining permanent resident status requires ongoing compliance with certain immigration laws. Although this may be straightforward for most people who settle down and continuously live in the United States after obtaining a green card, it is something to think about carefully for those who continue to spend substantial time abroad – for example, in China. Failure to properly maintain LPR status may result in being deemed to have abandoned your green card, which will seriously endanger your ability to continue residing in the United States. These rules apply equally to all green card holders, including those in conditional permanent resident status.
Contrary to common belief, there is no specific number of days or a mathematical formula that determines if any individual is properly maintaining his or her LPR status. Instead, it is a broad assessment that is based on related two components: ties to the United States and physical presence in the country. It is crucial for green card holders thinking of traveling abroad for a long time to be mindful of these components to avoid abandoning LPR status.
Analyzing one's ties to the U.S. involves examining various connections that an individual has established to the country, including but not limited to the following: owning or leasing a residence, filing federal and state tax returns, being employed by a U.S. company or owning and operating a business, having close family members in the U.S., having a U.S. driver license, being enrolled in a U.S. educational institution, maintaining U.S. professional licenses or affiliations, and other similar items that demonstrate the establishment of close ties to the United States. It is important to understand that no single factor ensures the maintenance of LPR status. For example, merely owning a home or having close family members in the U.S. may not suffice. The significance of maintaining ties and the strength of evidence required to prove these connections is judged in conjunction with the frequency and duration absences from the United States.
The longer or more frequent the absences, the higher the likelihood that you may need to demonstrate your ties to the U.S. at some point. Generally, an absence of less than 180 days does not raise concerns. However, merely returning to the U.S. within every 180-day period does not guarantee compliance. For example, if someone re-enters the U.S. every 150 days but only stays briefly in a hotel without maintaining other U.S. ties, they may encounter a problem. An absence between 180 and 365 days could attract attention upon return and result in being pulled aside and questioned by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer about the reason for excessive absences and asked for evidence of ongoing ties to the United States. Although most encounters of such nature result in a simple warning, in rare instances a CBP officer may remain unconvinced, confiscate the green card, and refer the individual to immigration court proceedings on the basis of abandoning LPR status. However, a single absence from the U.S. exceeding one year triggers an automatic presumption that the individual has abandoned his or her U.S. permanent resident status. Such determination of abandonment results in the loss of permanent resident status and can rarely be reversed unless there were extraordinary reasons for the absence that were beyond the individual’s control.
Permanent residents who are in the U.S. and planning to travel abroad for over a year may apply for a reentry permit before departing. This permit allows a green card holder to remain abroad for an extended period of over one year without abandoning LPR status. However, it is important to remember that although holding a valid reentry permit will waive the rule against departure for over a year, it will not exempt the holder from maintaining ties to the U.S. during the period of absence. Additionally, an absence from the U.S. of more than one year, even with a reentry permit, will reset the 5-year continuous residency requirement that is needed for naturalization and obtaining U.S. citizenship.
It is important to note that breaching the aforementioned guidelines does not automatically result in problems. An element of luck is involved as well. These issues typically arise if a CBP officer decides to conduct a background check upon re-entry after traveling abroad. These checks are much less frequent at major airports but are more common at smaller entry points or land crossings because officers at smaller points of entry may have more time and resources to conduct thorough checks.
In conclusion, it is essential for green card holders to be mindful of not only their physical presence in the U.S. but also their ongoing ties to the country, as both aspects contribute to the overall assessment of their “subjective intent”to settle in the United States. A CBP officer or immigration court will evaluate both the physical presence and the maintenance of ties to the U.S. to determine the individual’s subjective intentions at the time of the most recent departure.
Tips to keep in mind for maintaining permanent resident status:
- At a minimum, purchase or lease a U.S. home. Avoid living in hotels.
- File income tax returns every year, but never file as a non-resident!
- Carry documentation of all your ties to the U.S. when returning from a lengthy trip abroad.
BTM Group thanks Bowen Xue for his contributions to this article.
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