4 Ways You Can Lose Your Green Card

Understanding How Certain Situations Can Result in Lawful Permanent Residents Losing Their Status

Lawful permanent residency, bestowed through a physical “green card,” is a critical piece of immigration in the United States. Holding a green card authorizes you to live anywhere in the country and lawfully apply for employment. It also eventually opens the path to naturalization, in which you can finally become a United States citizen. Some green cards are nonconditional and must be renewed every 10 years. Others, like those earned through newer marriages, come with strings attached, called conditional green cards. These conditional green cards expire after 2 years and require additional steps to convert to nonconditional green cards, a process called “removing conditions.”

Whether you have a conditional or nonconditional green card, you will lose your status if you fail to renew your lawful permanent residency before the expiration date. There are other circumstances in which you can lose your green card, however. Immigrants who already have green cards or are thinking about pursuing one should be aware of these scenarios to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Below, we cover 4 situations where you can potentially lose your green card.

#1: You Sign Form I-407

Believe it or not, thousands of people deliberately choose to give up their green card each year. Many immigrants will do this because they seek to avoid paying United States taxes. Remember, lawful permanent residency grants you a number of benefits, including eligibility for certain government relief programs. However, with those benefits comes responsibilities, including being on the hook for taxes.

Relinquishing your green card through Form I-407, the Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status, is a technique some individuals will use to avoid tax liability. Submitting this form and giving up your green card does not necessarily absolve you of tax debts, though. Persons seeking tax relief through this maneuver should consult lawyers familiar with both tax debt and immigration law. Signing Form I-407 for this reason can also limit your ability to legally immigrate in the future.

Additionally, some individuals will choose to give up their green cards because they simply no longer have a desire to live in the country. This can occur when an individual or family finds better sociopolitical or economic environments elsewhere.

There are some circumstances where Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents may request you sign Form I-407 if they believe you have abandoned your residence in the country. You are not obligated to sign Form I-407 under any circumstance, no matter what is said to you by a government agent. If a CBP officer attempts to compel you to sign and you refuse, there is a decent change you will instead be replaced in removal proceedings. While this is not ideal, you have the right to defend yourself in this court process. By signing Form I-407, you lose the ability to seek relief or argue your case.

As a general rule, you should never sign any immigration document without consulting with an immigration attorney. If you believe you have been misled into signing Form I-407, you should immediately contact experienced legal representation.

#2: You Spend Too Much Time Outside the United States

When you are a lawful permanent resident, you are expected to physically reside in the United States more often than not, with restrictions on how long you can live outside the country and maintain your status. These limitations are removed if you become a U.S. citizen, but violating them can endanger your ability to naturalize or even result in the loss of your green card.

If you leave the United States for any period exceeding 6 months in duration, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will typically assume you have abandoned your residence and may even attempt to bar your return to the country. If you are gone for 12 months or more, some resistance from border officials is all but guaranteed. As we mentioned above, CBP agents may request you sign Form I-407 upon your attempt to reenter the U.S. If you decline, you will likely be placed in removal proceedings on the grounds you abandoned your residence.

The triggering factor rests on whether USCIS believes you intended to live outside the United States, an action that violates the terms of your green card. Of course, there are numerous legitimate reasons why you might leave the country for an extended period of time – you might need to finish school at another country’s institution, aid in the care of an ill family member, or even treat a condition you are suffering at a medical facility outside the U.S. Unfortunately, doing any of these things without taking the proper preventative steps can lead to the jeopardizing of your status.

If you know you are going to need to leave the country for an extended period of time, you may be able to apply for a reentry permit, which authorizes you to be outside the U.S. for up to 24 months. Assuming you do not qualify for one of several exceptions to this rule, reentry permits can often be an extremely effective tool in protecting your status should you have to leave the country for a long duration.

U.S. government employees, their spouses, and their minor children may remain outside the United States if they are sent out of the country for the duration of a relevant assignment, plus a 4-month grace period. In other words, if a government employee with a green card is sent overseas for 15 months, they will have 19 months to return without endangering their status. Additionally, some lawful permanent residents enjoy special in-and-out privileges with commuter status, in which they work in the U.S. but reside in either Canada or Mexico.

You have several options if you lose your green card as a result of your time outside the United States. Impacted individuals with immediate family members inside the country will often rely on family-based immigration, filing Form I-130 to initiate consular processing. This process often carries a shorter wait than other methods.

Alternatively, you may be able to apply for a returning resident visa, which is intended for lawful permanent residents who were forced to remain outside the U.S. past the acceptable limit due to extraordinary circumstances. Simply having family in the U.S. or having a non-emergency reason for time abroad, like finishing schooling, will generally not cut it. You will need to prove your absence was the result of something beyond your control and that you always intended to return to the country. For this approach to work, you will in most situations need to have continued to pay your taxes and maintained any other interests in the United States.

#3: You Are Convicted of a Disqualifying Crime

Getting in trouble with the law as an immigrant can put you in hot water, even if you are lawful permanent resident. This area of the law can be tricky, as it is often not cut and dry what types of arrests or convictions will trigger the loss of a green card. Generally, though, being charged with a crime is a serious cause for concern and could threaten your future in the United States.

Being convicted of a violent crime like murder, assault, robbery, or endangerment will often not only result in the loss of your status but also expedient removal from the United States. One of the key conditions USCIS uses to evaluate immigrant candidates is whether they represent a threat to the country’s public or national security; a violent criminal record is thus a disqualifying factor, even if you already have a green card.

Serious violent crimes are not the only types of offenses that can create problems, however. Any crimes of “moral turpitude” – or any action that goes against the standards of a community – can lead to significant consequences for green card holders.

A lawful permanent resident’s green card might be in danger if they are:

  • Convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within 5 years of their admittance to the country, with a sentencing of 1 year in prison or more
  • Convicted of multiple crimes of moral turpitude at any time after their admittance to the country (though the convictions must stem from different incidents)
  • Convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after their admittance to the country

It is again worth emphasizing that these are not hard and fast rules. Criminal convictions are often evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If you are a lawful permanent resident that has been accused of a serious crime or have multiple charges on your criminal record, you should immediately speak to an experienced immigration lawyer in addition to your criminal defense attorney.

#4: You Engage in Fraud to Obtain Your Visa

Lying about or intentionally misrepresenting information on any immigration form or communication with USCIS is not only a crime but also grounds for the rescinding of any immigration status. In theory, fraud can occur in any transfer of information with USCIS: This can include your initial application, words exchanged in your interview, or any evidence you submit for consideration.

Sometimes, simple mistakes or omissions can result in USCIS officials suspecting fraud or willful misrepresentation. This is part of why having an experienced immigration attorney on your side is so important. They can represent you in all communications with the agency and defend you should any problems arise. If USCIS does determine you engaged in fraud at any point during the application process, they can remove your status.

There are two more broad types of fraud USCIS tends to focus on. One stems from marriage fraud: If you obtained your green card through marriage, you are likely already familiar with the agency’s presumption that some marriages are inauthentic and only exist to facilitate lawful permanent residency. Naturally, if a marriage does turn out to be fraudulent in some way, USCIS will rescind the status of the offending party.

The other category to watch out for is nonimmigrant visa fraud. When you are entering the country on many classes of nonimmigrant visas, including student visas, you are pledging that you are not looking to remain in the country past your visa’s expiration and instead intend to return home. The U.S. Department of State relies on the 90-day rule, which presumes any action a nonimmigrant visa holder takes to change their status within their first 90 days in the U.S. is in violation of their pledge and therefore fraudulent.

In other words, you cannot enter the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa and immediately attempt to change your status. Should USCIS discover you violated these terms at any point in pursuit of your green card, your lawful permanent residency can be rescinded.

We Can Help Protect Your Lawful Permanent Residency

Our team at Kanu & Associates, P.C. understands how challenging it is to get any type of green card. The thought of losing your green card as the result of some mistake or other circumstance can be terrifying, but our immigration lawyers are prepared to do everything in our power to protect your status. We are familiar with the legal systems involving lawful permanent residency and have over 15 years helping our Arizona clients fight for their rights.

If you believe your green card is in danger, do not wait to call (602) 353-7795 or contact us online. We can schedule a consultation to evaluate the details of your case before determining how we can help.

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