After months of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processing and likely several thousand dollars, you or your family member has received “lawful permanent resident status” or a “green card.” This is the immigration equivalent of a “golden ticket” because it means two very important things:
- You can live and work in the U.S. without regard to a visa in your passport.
- You are on your way to becoming a U.S. citizen as long as you do not commit certain crimes or lose your permanent residency.
However, if you decide to treat your lawful permanent resident status as a tourist visa, you are putting yourself at risk of having the green card being taken from you. It also does not matter if you are a young person and your parents had you living abroad. When I say "treating it as a tourist visa," I mean not actually living in the U.S. or establishing a life in the U.S. after getting the green card.
Essentially, if I ask you, during 2014, where did you rest your head at night and the answer is somewhere other than the U.S., please heed the following warnings and tips:
- A lawful permanent resident must reside in the U.S. This means more than just coming to visit the U.S. every six months. Residing in the U.S. means that you intend to live here on a permanent basis and can be shown through having a home, a job, accounts, and other factors.
- If you know in advance that you will need to be away from the U.S. for an extended period of time, please consult our office to apply for a re-entry permit. This is permission to be outside of the U.S. for up to one year (in some cases more than) due to medical reasons, schooling, or employment.
- If you find yourself outside of the U.S. for more than a year, consult with an attorney right away. Being away for more than 6 months is also a cause for concern. You may find yourself in a difficult situation when you arrive at a U.S. airport. An Customs officer essentially has four options to deal with you:
- Permit you to come in with your permanent residency if they do not believe you have abandoned your residency despite an extended time abroad. The officer looks at factors like whether you had a fixed date of return, the purpose of your trip, your job location etc.
- Permit you to come in but keep the green card until you return with proof that you reside in the U.S. (sometimes called “Deferred Inspection.”) In some scenarios, you can also be requested to make a formal request to be admitted as permanent resident even though you have been away for more than a year and do not have a re-entry permit by filling out Form I-193.
- Permit you to come in but they will keep your green card and you will have to appear in immigration court before an immigration judge to argue that you did not abandon your green card.
- Permit you to come in only if you agree to give up your permanent residency by signing Form I-407 and entering in as a visitor. This will only be an option for citizens of Visa Waiver countries who do not need a visa to enter the U.S. as visitors such as England or Germany. Other citizens will simply be put on the next flight out back to their home country.
The important thing to note is that when you or your family member is stuck at the airport, you are not allowed an attorney. Even if an attorney calls on your behalf, the CBP officers are not required to speak to an attorney. The time to speak to an attorney is before leaving on an extended trip or before attempting to come back to the U.S. after an extended trip aboard.