Congratulations! Now that you are a legal permanent resident (“LPR”) or conditional permanent resident (“CPR”), or green card holder, you may have questions regarding your new immigration status. This article aims to provide you with answers to some common questions.

Permanent Residency Approval Notice and Card

As an initial matter, please read your approval notice carefully to ensure all information is correct. If your notice states: “The above application has been approved. The Immigration Card Facility will mail the new alien registration card directly to the applicant,” then you do not need to do anything further to obtain your card.

However, if your approval notices states: “Your application for permanent resident status has been approved. We must complete the process to issue your Permanent Resident Card (I-551),” then you must make an InfoPass appointment to visit your local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) office in order to complete I-89 processing and obtain your permanent residency card. To make an appointment, go to the InfoPass website. Further information on scheduling appointments can be found in A Beginner’s Guide to InfoPass. Bring to your appointment some form of government-issued photo identification, such as a passport or a driver’s license; your original I-485 approval notice; and printed confirmation of your appointment. At the I-89 appointment, you can obtain an “I-551” stamp in your passport documenting your new permanent resident status. This stamp confers universal work authorization and permits international travel.

If no further processing was required and you do not receive your green card within 30 days of your approval notice or within 30 days following your I-89 appointment, you can call the USCIS National Customer Service Center on 1-800-375-5283. Your green card is your most important travel and identification document.

When your green card arrives, look at it carefully and ensure all the information in the card is correct. LPR cards are typically valid for ten years, at which time you will have to apply to renew your card using Form I-90. It is important to note that even if your physical green card expires, you do not lose your PR status. If you need to replace your card before it expires because it was lost, stolen, or dilapidated, you may file Form I-90 with USCIS. If you have children under the age of 14 who are permanent residents, they must register with USCIS within 30 days of turning 14 by filing Form I-90 with the fee.

Conditional Permanent Residency

Certain individuals are granted conditional permanent resident (“CPR”) status. Specifically, those who obtained a green card through marriage, having been married for less than two years at the time legal permanent resident status was granted, and those who received a green card through an EB-5 immigrant investor petition are issued CPR status. Individuals with CPR status have the same rights and responsibilities as an LPR. However, they must file an application to remove the conditions on their residence within the 90 days preceding the second anniversary of receiving conditional residence. Marriage-based conditional residents file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, and EB-5 immigrant investors file Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions. Both applications are filed with USCIS.

Marriage-based conditional residents must submit the I-751 signed by both spouses. The conditional resident spouse can file the I-751 petition without the signature of his/her petitioning spouse under the following circumstances:

  • The conditional resident spouse entered the marriage in good faith and the petitioning spouse has since died.
  • The conditional resident spouse entered the marriage in good faith, but the marriage has since ended in divorce or in an annulment.
  • The conditional resident spouse entered the marriage in good faith, but s/he was battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by the petitioning spouse.
  • Termination of legal resident status and removal from the U.S. would result in extreme hardship to the conditional resident spouse.

Immigrant investors must submit the I-829 with proof of the following:

  • The investment was sustained during the two-year period.
  • Ten jobs were created for U.S. citizens or PRs (directly, if an individual EB-5 investor, or indirectly, if investing through a regional center). Immediate family members of the investor and nonimmigrant workers do not count towards the job creation requirement.

If the I-751 or I-829 is approved, you will receive a legal permanent resident green card.

Failure to file an I-751 or I-829 within the 90 days prior to the expiration of your CPR status will lead to your PR status terminating automatically on your second anniversary as a conditional resident. If this occurs, you lose all your rights as a PR and you become subject to removal. Failure to timely file the I-751 or I-829 may be excused at the discretion of USCIS if the I-751 or I-829 is filed together with a written explanation proving that there was good cause for failing to timely file the petition due to extenuating circumstances.

Rights and Responsibilities

As a permanent resident, you have most of the same rights and obligations as U.S. citizens, except that you cannot vote and are not entitled to some public benefits. You have the right to:

  • Live permanently in the United States.
  • Work permanently in the United States.
  • Apply to become a U.S. citizen if and when you are eligible.
  • Petition USCIS to confer a green card to your spouse, unmarried children (under 21 years old), and/or unmarried sons and daughters (21 years old and over).
  • Receive Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare benefits, if eligible. Please check the eligibility requirements for the program you wish to apply for.
  • Own property in the U.S.
  • Apply for a driver’s license in your state.
  • Leave and re-enter the United States without prior approval from USCIS, except for trips lasting longer than a year.
  • Attend public schools and colleges.
  • Receive federal financial aid to attend U.S. colleges.
  • Join certain branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Receive professional licenses, if eligible.

Note: The process of petitioning and obtaining legal permanent resident status for your spouse, unmarried children, and/or unmarried sons and daughters can be lengthy. Currently, there is a wait time for individuals applying under these categories ranging from a little over two years to more than 20 years, depending on which country the beneficiary is from. Hence, it is in your best interest to file petitions for your qualifying family members as soon as you receive your green card.

Your responsibilities as a green card holder are to:

  • File U.S., state, and local income tax returns and report global income.
  • Obey all federal, state, and local laws.
  • Register with the Selective Service if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 26. You may register online via the Selective Service website. Males who received their green card between the ages of 18 and 26 were registered with the Selective Service upon approval of the green card. No further action is required from such male individuals.
  • Maintain validity of your permanent resident card and status.
  • File Form I-90 with USCIS within 30 days of your PR child(ren) turning 14.
  • Carry proof of your PR status at all times if you are over 18 years of age.
  • Register changes of address by filing Form AR-11 with USCIS within 10 days of a move. You can do this online on the USCIS website.

Brief Travel

Legal permanent residents are free to travel outside the United States, but must exercise care when traveling abroad for an extended period. Temporary or brief trips abroad do not usually affect an individual’s permanent resident status. Trips lasting longer than six months, however, can raise concerns regarding the PR’s intent to reside permanently in the U.S. See below for abandonment issues that may arise if you spend more than 12 months outside the United States during one trip.

To travel outside the U.S., you will need a passport from your country of citizenship or your refugee travel document, and a visa and/or other additional entry/exit requirements set by the foreign country you plan to visit. To re-enter the U.S. after international travel, you will need a valid, unexpired green card and any other identity documents you present, such as a passport, foreign national I.D. card, or U.S. driver’s license. If you possess a valid, unexpired re-entry permit (see below for more information), you should present this at the same time. These documents will be inspected by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) officer at the time of re-entry.

Extended Trips Abroad and Abandonment of PR Status

As discussed above, a PR has the obligation to maintain his/her status and is expected to live permanently in the U.S. Moving to another country or traveling abroad for an excessive period may lead to allegations and a finding that the PR has abandoned his/her PR status. Upon inspection of a returning PR, a CBP officer may allege that the returning PR has abandoned his/her PR status if s/he was outside the U.S. for more than 12 months. If this occurs, the CBP officer can place the PR in removal proceedings, alleging that s/he has abandoned his/her PR status. The PR will then have to show in front of an immigration judge that s/he maintained ties to the U.S. and did not intend to abandon his/her PR status.

Factors considered by CBP officers and immigration judges in determining abandonment include:

  • Location of family, property holdings, and jobs in the United States or abroad.
  • Intention to return to the United States as a place of employment, business, or as an actual home.
  • Purpose in departing from the United States.
  • Whether the visit abroad could be expected to terminate within a relatively short period of time.
  • Whether a return date can be fixed by some early event.
  • Whether you filed U.S. income taxes as a resident.
  • Whether you maintain a bank account or run a business in the United States.

If you think you will spend more than six months outside the U.S. and you do not satisfy the above criteria, you should apply for a re-entry permit on Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, prior to embarking on your trip. A re-entry permits serves as a notice to USCIS that you intend to make a long trip outside the U.S., but have no intention of abandoning your PR status. You should file your I-131 application at least three months before your intended departure date. You must be physically in the U.S. when you file your I-131 and must get your biometrics taken at an Application Support Center. If you depart the U.S. after having your biometrics taken, USCIS can approve the I-131 and send your re-entry permit to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate or Department of Homeland Security Office of your choice.

A re-entry permit is valid for two years from the date of approval. If you are a CPR, however, the re-entry permit will be valid either for two years from the date of issuance or until the date you have to apply to remove the conditions on your residence, whichever date comes first. Please note that a re-entry permit does not guarantee entry into the United States upon your return as you must first be determined to be admissible (see below for admissibility issues). However, it will assist you in establishing your intention to permanently reside in the United States and avoid any claims of abandonment.

Returning to the United States after an Extended Trip Abroad

Attempting to return to the United States after spending more than a year outside the U.S. without a re-entry permit, or past the expiration date of your re-entry permit, will most likely result in a refusal of admission for having abandoned your PR status. In this circumstance, you can either go through the entire visa petition process again, if eligible, or you can apply for an SB-1 Returning Resident Visa. An SB-1 visa allows a PR who has been outside the United States for more than one year, or two years if a re-entry permit was issued, to apply at a local U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a Returning Resident immigrant visa.

To apply for an SB-1 visa, you must meet the following requirements:

  1. You were a PR at the time of departure from the United States;
  2. You departed the United States with the intention of returning and have not abandoned this intention; and
  3. You are returning to the United States from a temporary visit abroad and, if the stay abroad was protracted, this was caused by reasons beyond your control and for which you were not responsible.

To receive an SB-1 visa, you will first need to file Form DS-117 at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and provide your original passport, green card, and re-entry permit (if applicable). You will also need to provide supporting documentation showing your dates of travel outside the United States (e.g., airline tickets, passport stamps), your intent to return to the United States when you last departed the U.S. (e.g., airline tickets), proof of your ties to the U.S. (e.g., tax returns, evidence of economic/familial/social ties to the U.S., insurance papers, deeds, club memberships, etc.), and proof that your protracted stay outside the U.S. was for reasons beyond your control (e.g., medical records, employment with a U.S. company, accompanying a U.S. citizen spouse, etc.).

If your DS-117 is approved, you can then file an immigrant visa application (DS-260), pay the filing fee, submit a medical exam, and attend an interview at the U.S. Consulate or Embassy. If your DS-260 is approved, you can enter the United States as a PR again and resume your PR status.

Note: Spouses and children of members of the U.S. Armed Forces or of civilian employees of the U.S. government stationed abroad on official orders do not need to obtain an SB-1 visa, even if they have remained outside the United States for an extended period of time and/or their green cards have expired, provided that they have not abandoned their PR status and that their spouse or parent is returning to the United States.

Travel Abroad and Inadmissibility

Permanent Residents who have been absent from the U.S. for more than 180 days, who have engaged in illegal activity after departing the U.S., or who have committed certain crimes since receiving PR status are subject to increased scrutiny and will be treated as applying for admission to the U.S. upon their return. This means that if any ground of inadmissibility under immigration law applies to them, they can be refused admission into the U.S. Note that a PR who has committed a crime involving moral turpitude or certain other crimes will be considered to be applying for admission regardless of the duration of the trip abroad. The following is a non-exhaustive list of grounds of inadmissibility:

  • Health problems, including infection with a communicable disease, drug addiction, and mental disorders.
  • Crimes, including committing a crime involving moral turpitude (e.g., theft), controlled substance violations, and money laundering.
  • Terrorist activities and national security concerns.
  • Public charge, i.e. you cannot support yourself financially and may depend on government public assistance.
  • Certain workers not possessing the proper qualifications and certifications (unqualified physicians, uncertified foreign healthcare workers, skilled or unskilled workers without a labor certification).
  • Entering the U.S. at a time or place not designated by the U.S. government.
  • Not attending a removal hearing in immigration court.
  • Committing fraud or misrepresenting a material fact to gain immigration benefits.
  • Falsely claiming U.S. citizenship.
  • Violating a student visa in the past by attending a publicly funded elementary school, high school, or education program.
  • Not possessing the required documentation, such as an unexpired green card or re-entry permit.
  • Permanent ineligibility for U.S. citizenship.
  • Previous deportations.
  • Practicing polygamy.
  • Withholding custody of a U.S. citizen child abroad against the order of a U.S. court order.
  • Unlawfully voting in a U.S. federal, state, or local election.

Further information on criminal inadmissibility can be found in Impacts of Criminal Behavior on Immigration.

If any of these grounds apply to you, you have been accused of any crime, or you plan to be outside the U.S. for more than 180 days, it is best not to leave the country without consulting an attorney to discuss the potential risks. If you have a problem at the border trying to return to the U.S., do not let the CBP officer take away your green card. Tell the officer you want a hearing in front of an immigration judge.

Removability: Losing PR Status in the United States

Having a green card and living in the United States does not protect you from losing your PR status and being removed from the United States. If you are found to fall into one of the following categories, the U.S. government can place you in removal proceedings and an immigration judge will make a final determination on your PR status. Note that this list is not exhaustive.

  • PRs who were inadmissible at the time they were granted PR status.
  • PRs whose conditional permanent residence was terminated (e.g., for failure to timely file an I-751 or I-829 to remove the conditions on residence).
  • PRs who smuggled someone into the U.S. before gaining PR status, at the time they gained PR status, or within five years of becoming a PR.
  • PRs who engaged in marriage fraud to obtain PR status.
  • PRs who are convicted of certain crimes, including crimes involving moral turpitude (e.g., theft); aggravated felonies; failure to register as a sex offender, if required; controlled substance law violations; certain firearm offenses; crimes of domestic violence; and crimes against children.
  • PRs who engage in document fraud or falsification of documents.
  • PRs who falsely claim U.S. citizenship.
  • PRs who engage in terrorist activities, espionage, or national security concerns.
  • PRs who become a public charge within five years of receiving PR status.
  • PRs who unlawfully voted in a U.S. federal, state, or local election.

If you find yourself in one of these situations and are placed in removal proceedings, do not sign any document without first talking to a lawyer.

Elected Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status

If you wish to give up your status as a legal permanent resident of the United States, you may do so by completing and presenting Form I-407, Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status; your green card; and, if applicable, your re-entry permit, at a USCIS office of a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad. Once the I-407 is processed, you will no longer be a PR and can apply again in the future for admission to the U.S. as an immigrant or nonimmigrant.

Naturalization to U.S. Citizenship

One of the most important rights legal permanent residents have is the right to obtain U.S. citizenship. After holding PR status for five years, or three years for spouses of U.S. citizens, you may apply to become a U.S. citizen by filing Form N-400 with USCIS. In addition to holding PR status for five or three years, a PR must meet the following conditions:

  • Be at least 18 years old at the time of filing the N-400.
  • Have lived in the state from where s/he will apply for at least three months prior to the date of filing the N-400.
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. as a PR for at least five years (or three years if domiciled with a U.S. citizen spouse) immediately preceding the date of filing the N-400.
  • Be physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the five years (or 18 months out of the three years, if the spouse of a U.S. citizen) immediately preceding the date of filing the N-400.
  • Reside continuously within the U.S. from the time the N-400 is filed to the time of naturalization.
  • Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government.
  • Be a person of good moral character.

The last requirement—to be a person of good moral character—can be problematic for PRs who have committed or been convicted of certain crimes. Please consult with an attorney prior to filing an N-400 if you have ever been arrested.

If you plan on applying for U.S. citizenship as soon as possible, make sure you abide by the continuous residence and physical presence requirements. In all cases, leaving the United States for a year or more will break the continuity of residence. Leaving the United States for more than 180 days may also break the continuity of residence at the discretion of USCIS. Also note that a re-entry permit does not preserve continuity of residence for citizenship purposes.

CPRs may file Form N-400 while their Form I-751 is pending. They can file the N-400 starting 90 days before the third anniversary of receiving conditional permanent residence. The naturalization application will be approved after the I-751 is approved.

A U.S. citizen can have dual citizenship, depending on the laws of the other country. There is no law in the U.S. that requires an individual to choose one nationality over another. Nonetheless, if you are interested in having dual citizenship, you should look at the citizenship laws of both countries.

Further information on naturalization can be found in Becoming a U.S. Citizen through Naturalization.