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5 Common Misconceptions about Green Cards


There have been a lot of changes to immigration policies, regulations, and rules. While a lot of the news headlines have been focused on illegal immigration at the border, there have been many attacks intending to reduce legal immigration. Some foreign nationals in the U.S. are here strictly on a temporary basis, but many are working towards getting their green card. Processing a green card application may only take a few months, but just getting the opportunity to apply for a green can take years, sometimes upwards of two decades, depending on where the foreign national is born. Once an immigrant finally gets that hard-earned green card, it is vital to avoid anything that may be construed as abandoning it.

  1. A Green Card Holder Only Needs to Travel to the U.S. Twice a Year

The official name of a green card is a Permanent Resident Card and the person who holds the green card is a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR). That means an immigrant needs to be a permanent resident in the United States; not just travel back once in a while to check in as maintenance for their green card. There is a very common misconception that a green card holder only needs to travel back once in a six-month period and stay for a few days or weeks to avoid abandoning LPR status. If an LPR attempts this situation, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is very likely to challenge their status when they try to reenter the United States.

The LPR has the burden of establishing that their visit abroad was only temporary and some key indicators of permanent resident status are: property ownership, family ties, filing income taxes, and employment are all primarily in the U.S.

  1. A Green Card May Need to be Surrendered at the Airport

This is a scary scenario for any LPR: when returning from a trip abroad, they are stopped by CBP officers and ushered into a secondary inspection where they are told they need to surrender their green card. While anyone who is not a U.S. citizen runs the risk of being deemed seeking admission to the United States, an LPR cannot be forced to surrender their green card without a hearing.

A green carder holder does not have the same rights as a U.S. citizen, but they do have a right to a hearing. As soon as a green card holder is told to go to a secondary inspection, they should call immediately call an experienced immigration attorney. Even if the CBP officer is instructing to surrender the green card and sign forms, the LPR does not, and should not, do this. It can mean the different between sitting in a detention center for months, completely abandoning their green card altogether, or returning home and preparing — with an immigration attorney — for an hearing sometime in the future.

  1. A Green Card is Forever

All green cards have an expiration date but not all cards have the same validity period. Some LPRs are issued a conditional green card that is valid for only 2 years, like the ones issued for marriage or based on investment. Once the 2-year conditional period is up, it’s time to apply for the removal of the conditions since it cannot be renewed like the 10-year green card. Though the 10-year green card can be renewed, there are immense benefits at that point to apply for naturalization. It’s only slightly more expensive to apply for naturalization and the LPR will avoid any future hassle of renewing their green card again. The additional benefits of U.S. citizenship will be covered in the next two myths below.

  1. Green Card Holders Can’t Be Deported

Only U.S. citizens can’t be deported and since green card holders are not U.S. citizens, they most definitely can be deported. Some can lose their green cards if they commit a crime (and the crime doesn’t need to be a felony), but at this point the LPR should immediately seek an immigration attorney. Some other actions that may put an LPR at risk of being deported are: voting in a U.S. election, failure to report an address change, failure to prove permanent residence, or committing fraud in the process of applying for a green card.

  1. Green Card Holders Have the Same Rights as Citizens

U.S. citizens have more rights and benefits than green card holders since they are not the same thing – though many may think so. Green card holders cannot vote or run for public office; are not eligible for federal government jobs; cannot travel abroad for long periods; cannot sponsor family for green cards; and can be deported.

Having a green card is a huge step towards a long-term future in the United States, but it does not guarantee a foreign national can stay forever. It is important to remember the only way to ensure this is to become a U.S. citizen. Naturalization is often the final and extremely happy step in a long immigration journey for foreign nationals looking to pursue the American dream.


The material contained in this article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.  An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation.  The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

Reprinted with permission from the March 13, 2019 edition of the The Legal Intelligencer© 2019 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. – 877-257-3382 –


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