Well you finally have become a permanent resident. Now it is important that you understand your rights, how to maintain your status and how to comply with various legal requirements.
Conditional Permanent Residency
If you obtained your permanent residency through marriage to a US citizen or through an EB-5 investment, your permanent residency may be considered conditional. This would be the case if you were married less than two years when your permanent residency was granted. If this applies to you, then your permanent residency will expire in two years unless you successfully apply for the condition to be removed. That process will involve submitting a Petition to Remove Conditions on Permanent Residency within the 90 day period preceding the expiration. You'll know if this applies to you if you have a two year expiration date on your green card instead of a ten year expiration date.
Your Rights and Responsibilities
As a permanent resident, you are entitled to live permanently in the US and to work for all but a few types of employers. You will have most of the same rights as Americans. There are just a few exceptions. Except for a few local elections, you will not be permitted to vote in most elections and your attempting to vote in an election restricted to US citizens could get you deported. Also, you can be deported if you commit a crime. Generally speaking, only felonies will subject you to deportation, but certain serious misdemeanors can also have the same effect.
You are also expected to pay your taxes. Your taxpayer status may have changed as a result of a your being granted permanent residency and you are advised to consult with an accountant or other tax professional for advice on this.
If you are a male between 18 and 25 years of age, you are required to register with the Selective Service (this is commonly referred to as draft registration). Failure to register is a grounds for denying naturalization in addition to the other legal penalties that apply to anyone failing to register. You can now register on-line by going to http://www.sss.gov/. Please remember that if your children are becoming permanent residents, this policy applies to them as well.
As a permanent resident, you no longer need a separate visa to enter the US in most circumstances. You will be able to enter the US with your passport and an unexpired I-551 stamp in your passport or your passport and your green card. If you are going to be outside the US for between one and two years, you will probably need to apply for a reentry permit.
You are likely to get your green card in just a few weeks or months. If you do not get it before your I-551 stamp expires, you will need to file an I-90 form with your local INS office to extend your I-551 stamp. The INS will also make inquiries about your green card at that time.
Abandoning Your Green Card Status
A common problem faced by permanent residents is maintaining their status when they are outside the US for extended periods of time. You need to be extremely careful about losing your green card as a result of being outside the US for too long. The article I have written at http://www.visalaw.com/01jan4/12jan401.html will tell you more about this subject and what you can do to prevent problems.
It is very likely that you will want to become a citizen at some point. We recommend this since you will never lose your right to remain in the US if you are a citizen. Also, if you plan on sponsoring relatives for immigrant visas, citizens typically can bring relatives in more quickly than permanent residents (see below for more information on this). You will also be able to vote in elections if you naturalize.
To become a citizen, you will have to go through the naturalization process. To qualify, you must meet various residency requirements. One requirement is that you maintain permanent residency for five years (three years if you are married to a US citizen). You also need to be in the US for half of this time period. You also cannot have substantial periods of time outside the US that would show the INS that you broke your continuous residency. If you spend more than six months outside the US on any trip, you risk not being able to apply for naturalization. You are eligible to apply for citizenship up to 90 days ahead of your five year anniversary (or three year anniversary if you are married to an American citizen). If you would like us to handle your citizenship application, please let us know two or three months ahead of your eligibility date.
The Green Card
As you will soon discover, the green card is not actually green. The first such cards in the 1950s were and the original nickname has stuck. The I-551 stamp in your passport has the same legal meaning as the actual I-551 permanent residence card. The only difference is that the stamp must be renewed after a year and the card must be renewed after two years if it is conditional or ten years if it is not conditional. You do not lose your permanent residency if the card or stamp expires. But you will lack any legal proof of your permanent residency if this happens so it is in your best interest to make sure you file in a timely manner for an extension. Note also that either the I-551 stamp or the green card is acceptable proof of employment authorization when you complete an I-9 for a new employer. Either can be used as well for applying for a Social Security Card or state driver's license.
You need to make sure that you have your I-551 stamp or card in your possession at all times. While this does not mean you always have to have the card on you, you should know where it is, have it near you and be able to show it to an immigration officer if asked.
Sponsoring Family Members for Immigration
As a permanent resident, you are entitled to sponsor certain relatives for permanent residency. You can sponsor unmarried children and spouses for green cards. Note, however, that unless the relationship existed prior to your getting the green card, you could be waiting several years. In some cases, you will want to hold off on filing for a relative until after you get your citizenship.
Changes of Address
As a permanent resident, you are required to notify the BCIS every time your address changes. You will need to take care of this by sending in the AR-11 form to the BCIS. The form is available online and can be found at www.immigration.gov. We can also complete this paperwork for you. We charge a $50 service charge for this.
In any case, please let us know what your new contact information is in case we need to alert you of an important development.
Congratulations again on reaching this important milestone.