VISA SPOTLIGHT – ABANDONMENT OF A GREEN CARD
It is an all too common situation – after years of bureaucratic entanglements, a person finally obtains lawful permanent residence in the US, only to find they still have business or family concerns that will keep them out of the US for an extended period of time. Often, the lawful permanent resident (LPR) will try to reenter the US, only to have an INS or consular official tell them they have abandoned their permanent residence status. While an extended absence alone is not grounds for revoking permanent residence, it is one factor the INS considers very important. Therefore, when planning an extended trip abroad, it is necessary to plan ahead to avoid abandonment.
Among the many factors that influence the decision on abandonment are the length and reason for the absence, and the number and type of connections the LPR maintains in the US. There are many steps a LPR can take to demonstrate their intent to maintain their status in the US.
A commonly held but mistaken assumption is that a visit every year to the US will preserve LPR status. While an LPR needs only the green card to reenter the US after an absence of less than one year, this is not enough to indicate the intent to remain a resident of the US. The LPR must take additional action to preserve their status.
One of the most important factors in preserving permanent residence is to continue filing tax returns in the US. Because of international tax laws, there will often be no tax owed to the US government, but failure to file a return is almost always considered a sign that LPR status has been abandoned. The LPR should also maintain a bank account and credit cards in the US. These accounts should be as active as possible. For example, if the LPR is employed abroad, the salary should be deposited in the US account. The LPR should also continue to renew their US driver’s license. If possible the LPR should purchase property in the US.
If the LPR’s absence is due to employment, a letter from the employer detailing the terms and length of employment is very important. If the absence is for family or personal reasons, these should be well documented. While such reasons are acceptable, the ease with which they can be manipulated means they should be very well documented.
Of course, the LPR can also obtain a reentry permit if the absence is to be greater than one year (after absences of less than one year, the green card is sufficient for reentry). However, many of these same factors are involved in the decision of whether to issue such a permit, and even with a reentry permit the LPR can still be deemed to have abandoned status.
It is important that the LPR traveling abroad for an extended period is prepared to document their intent to remain a US resident if questioned by immigration or consular officials. One of the best ways to do this is carry copies of relevant documents in a single location that can easily be presented to officials. Among these documents should be copies of past tax returns, deeds showing property ownership, records of bank account activity, relevant letters from employers, and letters explaining the purpose of the extended absence.
One final note – Congress did change the law a few years ago to hold that permanent residents who leave the US for more than six months can be held inadmissible if there is something in their background now that would have barred them from getting a green card had it been true at the earlier date. For example, if one cannot meet the public charge requirements or has gotten a communicable disease, then they could face problems reentering. For most, this will probably not be a major concern.
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Disclaimer: This newsletter is provided as a public service and not intended to establish an attorney client relationship. Any reliance on information contained herein is taken at your own risk.