VIDEO: The easiest way to lose your lawful permanent resident status (green card)

What happens if a Green Card holder stays out of the United States for more than 6 months? I am Jim Hacking, Immigration Attorney practicing law here in St. Louis, Missouri.

We’ve gotten a lot of calls lately from people with Green Cards who find themselves outside the United States for more than 6 months and they’re wondering if they’re going to be able to come back into the country. You know this is really an upsetting question. We get it both in phone calls and on the computer.

People think that this Green Card that they’ve received makes them protected from bad consequences if they try to come back to the United States. They think that they are just like U.S. citizens and can come and go as they please. The fact of the matter is, if you have a Green Card and you stay out of the United States for more than 6 months there’s a serious chance that you’re going to lose your Green Card. It certainly doesn’t happen in every case, but just because it doesn’t happen in every case, doesn’t mean that it won’t happen in your case.

And what we’re talking about here really is control. Do you want to turn over control of your life and your status to bureaucrats at the Customs and Border Patrol, or USCIS, because once you do that, once you stay out of the United States for more than 6 months you lose the ability to control the outcome, and that’s a very bad thing.

Let’s step back for a minute. You know getting a Green Card is not an easy process. People go through a whole lot of work, and a whole lot of waiting, and a whole lot of money to get that Green Card, so why in the world would someone who has that Green Card then be so careless and flippant with it to leave the United States for more than 6 months without permission. It really is mindboggling when you think about it.

And so when people come to us we tell them what their options are, and the options are not always great. Because what happens when you come back with a Green Card and you’ve been out of the United States for too long, one of three things can happen, either they let you into the country and nothing comes of it, which is obviously a great outcome. A second outcome would be that they let you into the country but they tell you to come back to the local Border Patrol Office and prove why you should not be rescinded, have your Green Card rescinded and be sent back to your home country. The third option, of course, is that you just get turned away at the border and this would be after a long flight, you try to get back into the country, and now you’re sent back home and you’re without status in the United States.

Sometimes these people have lots of ties to the United States and they think that’s going to carry the day but there’s no guarantee. That’s what we’re talking about because as Immigration Attorneys are job is to minimize risk and to protect our clients as much as we can. So when we hear stories like this I actually get very angry and frustrated for the client because a lot of times, like I mentioned before, that people spend a lot of time and effort to get the Green Card, but sometimes these are kids of parents who did all that work. And so, I really think that if you’re going to do that, if you’re going to put yourself at risk you really should be hard on yourself, and you really should be upset with yourself because it’s a big mistake.

The law allows someone with a Green Card to stay out of the United States for more than a year if they get permission through a reentry permit. It’s not a big deal to get a reentry permit. The Immigration Service gives them out regularly and it really gives you the protection if there is indeed a reason for you to be outside of the United States for a long time.

And remember they call it permanent residence. A Green Card is not simply a travel document that allows you to come into and out of the United States as you see fit. The idea is that you’re going to be permanently residing in the United States and that this is your new home, that you’re on the path to citizenship and that you’re going to be a lawful permanent resident living here in the United States.

A lot of people think they can just get that Green Card and then come and go as they please. The fact is you’re not the same as a U.S. citizen. You don’t have the same status. You’re not completely in the United States. You’re not integrated completely in the United States. You’re well on your way if you have a Green Card but if you casually don’t use it and allow it to wither on the vine because you decided to not come back to the United States as often as you had to to maintain your status you’re really putting yourself at risk.

So we tell people when they come to us, one: we always go over the facts with them to make sure we understand them. Two: we always ask them, “Why did you do this.” There’s not much we can do after the fact. The purpose of this video is to implore you, beg you, and to really ask you to not do that before you leave the country. Talk to an Immigration Attorney and get the facts of the situation nailed down so that you can protect yourself, because that Green Card really is a valuable piece of property to have to allow you to come and go in the United States. We would really hate for you to lose it just because you didn’t do the things that you could do to protect yourself.

If you have any questions about this, if you’re wondering, “Can I leave the United States at this time, can I take care of this before I go,” give us a call 314-961-8200 or you can email me  Thanks.