Keeping Your Green Card Status
Congratulations, you were successful in getting a green card and now you want to keep it. The “green card,” Form I-551, is proof of your permanent resident status. The card is valid for 10 years and must be renewed. However, the permanent resident status itself does not expire. As a permanent resident you have the right to live and work permanently anywhere in the U.S. In order to maintain you green card status and prepare to apply for U.S. citizenship, you must file federal and state income tax returns, register with the Selective Service, if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 26, and give your new address to the Department of Homeland Security within ten days each time you move.
Generally, there are two ways to lose a green card. The first, is abandoning your permanent resident status. If you have been absent from the U.S. for a significant amount of time (generally, six months or more) you may be questioned by an immigration officer who will determine if you have abandoned your permanent resident status. Factors that the immigration officer will use to determine whether you are a permanent include: your reason for going out of the U.S.; the amount of time you have spent outside the U.S.; whether or not you have a definite date for the end of your stay outside the U.S.; whether your close family lives in the U.S. or abroad; the location and nature of your employment; whether you consider the U.S. your permanent resident home, which includes a U.S. address, owning or renting property, bank accounts, credit cards, driver’s license, memberships in U.S. organizations and storage bills for property left behind.
If you have not been outside the U.S. for more than a year, your green card serves as your entry document. If you are going to be absent from the U.S. for more than one year, it is presumed that you have the intention of abandoning your permanent residence unless you have previously filed for a reentry permit on Form I-131, while in the United States. However, this does not guarantee admission to the U.S. and a finding of no abandonment of your permanent resident status, but it is a declaration, which helps establish the permanent resident’s intent not to abandon status. When you return to the U.S., if the immigration official doubts that the U.S. is your permanent residence, he or she may take away your green card. If this happens, you will have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge.
You are also in danger of losing your green card and becoming deportable if you commit certain crimes. Many crimes that are punished lightly in criminal court can lead to permanent deportation. You should not plead guilty to a criminal charge without first speaking with an attorney who knows about immigration law and what could happen to your legal status.