On Jul 30 2009

The Rights and Responsibilities of Permanent Residents

Immigrants from all over the world follow long, arduous and varying paths in obtaining legal permanent resident status (“LPR”).

Once you are a permanent resident, however, you acquire certain rights and responsibilities.  Understanding these rights and responsibilities can sometimes be complex, therefore you might want to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with an experienced attorney who can assist you with your inquiries.

I.  Rights

As a person in LPR status, you possess many of the rights a United States citizen enjoys, with some exceptions.  As long as you avoid committing any actions that would make you deportable, such as being criminally convicted or repeatedly traveling for extended trips abroad, you may, if you choose, become an applicant for U.S. citizenship after complying with appropriate residency and other requirements.

Some of the rights you acquire upon receiving LPR status are as follows:

  • Living and working permanently in the United States
  • Owning property in the United States
  • Requesting visas for your spouse and unmarried children to live in the United States
  • Obtaining Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare benefits, along with benefits from other Federal Benefit Programs, once you become eligible
  • Applying for a driver’s license in your State or Territory
  • Attending public school and college
  • Being protected by all of the laws of the United States, the State in which you reside, as well as local jurisdictions

Please be aware that you do not obtain the right to vote or serve on a jury until you become a United States citizen.  Incorrectly (or falsely) claiming to be a U.S. citizen can be grounds for deportation and loss of permanent resident status.

II.  Responsibilities

In acquiring the rights described above, permanent residents have certain responsibilities to follow in order to maintain their LPR status.

A.  Maintaining Permanent Residence while Traveling

First and foremost, you should always carry your Permanent Resident (or “Green”) Card with you at all times for identification purposes.

While traveling abroad, permanent residents must abide by certain rules in order to maintain LPR status.  If you are only absent from the United States for a temporary period, you will generally not be confronted with any problems.  However, absences ranging from several months to one year most likely will result in questioning by immigration inspectors as to your intentions regarding the abandonment of your permanent residence status.  If you need to leave the country for a prolonged period of time or for shorter periods of time frequently, you should carry and have available for inspection evidence of your intent to retain permanent residence.  Such evidence may include: ownership of property, a residential lease, bank accounts, securities, other assets and investments, a driver’s license, Social Security Card, credit cards, confirmation of U.S. employment, financial support of relatives in the U.S. and final disposition of assets and/or employment abroad.

If you are absent from the U.S. for one year or longer, your permanent resident status will be put in jeopardy unless, before departing, you obtain a Re-Entry Permit.  Re-Entry Permits are valid for two years and consist of passport-style travel documents that establish the immigrant’s intention of not abandoning LPR status at the time of departure.  However, if you are planning to apply for U.S. citizenship, be aware that even with a Re-Entry Permit and evidence demonstrating the requisite intent to retain permanent residence, an absence of one year or longer will result in waiting an additional two years and one day prior to filing the naturalization application.

It is essential that you realize that, upon arrival from your travels abroad, if your LPR status is questioned by an immigration inspector, you have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge.  You should avoid signing an abandonment of your green card and instead request a hearing because, once signed, LPR status is lost and is nearly impossible to recover.

Due to the various rules and complications for permanent residents traveling abroad, the best recommendation is to keep a written inventory of all trips outside the United States.  It is important to record all dates of departure and return, airline names, flight numbers and the purposes for the trips.  Additionally, you should keep all airline receipts, considering airlines do not often save records for very long.  This recommendation also applies to any travel to Canada or Mexico by bus, train or automobile.  Retaining an accurate and thorough record will help you in preventing any risk to your LPR status, as well as any delay in your citizenship application.

In addition to the rules applicable to permanent residents traveling abroad, it is significant to note that U.S. permanent residents, like non-immigrants, continue to be subjected to the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology) travel screening requirements entering or exiting from an air or seaport.  When entering the United States, your “biometrics” – digital fingerprints and a photograph – will be collected by Customs and Border Protection.  However, permanent residents entering through land ports of entry will be required to provide fingerprints only if they are referred to secondary inspection.

B.  Tax Requirements

Important to maintaining LPR status, you must file Federal, State and local income taxes, as well as report your income to the United States IRS and the State, city or local tax department.  Even permanent residents living temporarily abroad must comply with and be aware of the tax requirements imposed by U.S. tax law.  Permanent residents can find a good source of information from the IRS Publication 519, “Tax Guide for Aliens,” as well as from a tax professional with experience in international tax compliance.  In addition, you can find assistance at any Taxpayer Assistance Center located in communities all across the United States.  To locate the closest Taxpayer Assistance Center to where you live, visit www.irs.gov/localcontacts/index.html, or call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

As mentioned above, it is critical that permanent residents who live abroad file U.S. tax returns, despite various rules that limit or even eliminate any taxes owed.  Failure to file a return will result in a Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) determination revoking your LPR status.  Losing LPR status may result in a tax penalty, particularly for high-earning or high net worth permanent residents.  Due to the complications involving the income, estate, and other tax obligations of permanent residents that move abroad, both tax and immigration counsel should be consulted prior to departing the United States for an extended period of time.

Finally, be sure to file tax returns as a “resident” each year regardless of your travels and ultimate intentions regarding citizenship.  Filing as “non resident” could jeopardize your ability to retain permanent resident status.

C.  Selective Service

Male permanent residents, age 18 to 26, are required to register with the Selective Service.  Registering merely informs the government that you are available to serve in the United States Armed Forces if the United States ever institutes a draft.  You can register at any United States post office or online at www.sss.gov.  Additionally, you can speak with someone from the Selective Service at 847-688-6888 for any inquiries you may have.

D.  Changing of Address

Every time you move, you must inform the DHS of your new address within 10 days of your relocation.  To do so, you must file Form AR-11, Alien’s Change of Address Card.  You may also change your address online by completing the electronic AR-11 at www.uscis.gov.

III.  Conditional Permanent Residents

The above rights and responsibilities for permanent residents apply equally to immigrants in conditional permanent resident status.  The difference between statuses is that a conditional permanent resident’s status will expire in two years from the date it was received, unless the condition is successfully removed by petition.  Assuming the condition is removed, the period of time you spend as a conditional permanent resident will count toward the time required to enable you to apply for citizenship, if you choose to do so.  If you need assistance in removing the condition to your permanent resident status, you should consult an experienced attorney to help you with the process.

IV.  Naturalization

After retaining LPR status for five years, you may apply to become a U.S. citizen through the naturalization process (Form N-400).  The time period is only three years if your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for the last three years, and you lived with your spouse during that time.  You may apply up to 90 days prior to the three or five year eligibility period.

In order to obtain U.S. citizenship, USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) must conclude that you have conducted yourself as a person of “good moral character” and have not done anything that would cause you to lose or abandon your LPR status.  Such conduct would include most criminal convictions or repeated and extended travel abroad.  Specifically, you must be physically present in the United States at least one-half of the days during the five (or three) years immediately preceding an application for naturalization.  You must also have no continuous absence from the U.S. of one year or more (unless you obtain special approval from the USCIS prior to departing).  Finally, you must be prepared to successfully pass a civics examination that demonstrates your knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. civics and history, as well as your knowledge and application of the English language.

Travel issues pertaining to the naturalization process are critical, and the rules are completely independent of, and separate from, the rules for maintaining LPR status.  In addition to travel issues, issues regarding dual citizenship may arise.  These complex issues may require consultation with an experienced immigration attorney if you need aid in steering through the naturalization process.

V.  Conclusion

Permanent residents must be aware of the rights and responsibilities that coincidence with their LPR status.  Upon gaining LPR status, permanent residents acquire many of the rights a U.S. citizen enjoys, but there are additional responsibilities bestowed upon permanent residents that they must abide by in order to maintain that status.  Therefore, a thorough understanding of these rights and responsibilities prevents permanent residents from jeopardizing their LPR status.

If you need any additional information, you can visit the USCIS website at http://www.uscis.gov/files/nativedocuments/M-618.pdf. This website provides helpful information for new U.S. permanent residents, particularly the section on “Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Lawful Permanent Resident.”