5 Ways to Lose Permanent Resident Status

Citizenship Replace/Renew Green Card


As the name suggests, permanent resident status is generally constant. It’s granted to people who intend to live in the United States for the foreseeable future. Permanent residents, also known as green card holders, have the privilege of living and working in the United States permanently. However, there are ways to lose permanent resident status. Certain actions can trigger removal (deportation) proceedings and the potential loss of this coveted immigration status.

5 Actions That Can Result in the Loss of Green Card Status

This article discusses a few of the most common ways that one can lose permanent resident status, but it isn’t an exhaustive list. Only a lawful permanent resident who naturalizes as a U.S. citizen is safe from most of these grounds of removal.


Living Outside the United States

Generally, spending more than 12 months outside the United States will result in a loss of permanent resident status. In fact, even shorter absences can trigger abandonment. If upon reentry the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer determines that you intended to live outside the United States, they can put you in removal proceedings. Additionally, failing to file income taxes with the IRS while living outside the U.S. can trigger removal.

Each year many people unintentionally abandon their green card status when they move back to their home country. They may need to take care of a sick family member, attend school or even tend to their own medical needs. Without the right preparation and planning, it leads to the most common way to lose permanent resident status.


There are exceptions and strategies to prevent this problem. Permanent residents who obtain a reentry permit prior to departure can generally extend their absence up to 24 months. Additionally, U.S. government personnel (military and direct-hire civil service employees), their spouses and minor children who hold permanent resident status may remain outside of the United States for the duration of an official overseas assignment plus four months without losing their resident status. There is also an exception for permanent residents in commuter status -- green card holders who work in the U.S. but live across a border in Canada or Mexico.

Reacquiring a Visa

An immigrant who has lost permanent resident status and wants to return to the United States as an immigrant must obtain a new immigrant visa. In most cases, this means that the intending immigrant must re-apply. A U.S. relative (spouse, parent, offspring or sibling) may file an I-130 immigrant petition. Then, the intending immigrant applies through consular processing once USCIS approves the visa petition and a visa is immediately available.

In some cases, the former permanent resident may apply for a returning resident visa. An application for returning resident status requires evidence of the applicant’s continuing, unbroken ties to the United States, that the stay outside the United States was truly beyond the applicant’s control and that the intent of the applicant was to always return to the United States. Evidence may consist of continuous compliance with U.S. tax law, ownership of property and assets in the United States, and maintenance of U.S. licenses and memberships. Having U.S. relatives, attending school overseas or stating an intent to return is generally insufficient. It’s best to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney when requesting a returning resident visa.


Voluntary Surrender of Green Card

If you have ever filed Form I-407, you have voluntarily abandoned your status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Each year several thousand people file Form I-407, Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status.

The most common reason people file Form I-407 is to escape the obligation of paying U.S. taxes. However, anybody that wishes to do this should consult with an immigration attorney and tax professional that can advise them on the long-term consequences of their actions. There are other former U.S. immigrants that simply decide they want to leave the United States permanently.

In some cases, CBP officers may ask certain individuals to sign Form I-407. If you’ve been living outside the United States (as discussed in the previous section) and the CBP officer believes you have abandoned your U.S. residence, you generally have the right to defend yourself in removal proceedings. The officer may ask you to sign Form I-407 so that you give up this opportunity to defend yourself and voluntarily deport yourself. If your intention is to continue your permanent residence, do not sign I-407 and contact an immigration attorney.


Fraud and Willful Misrepresentation

A fraud is generally committed when an individual lies to obtain immigration benefits of some kind. However, any assertation or representation of facts that is not completely truthful can create significant immigration problems and potentially result in the loss of permanent resident status.

Fraud can occur when preparing an application, submitting evidence, interviews and any exchange of information with immigration officials. It can occur in connection with immigration benefits other than permanent residence. For example, extensions of nonimmigrant stay, change of status, employment authorization and parole are all immigration benefits that USCIS evaluates for potential fraud.

Two of the more common ways to lose permanent resident status include marriage fraud and visa fraud.

Marriage Fraud

Marriage has been a long-time way to try to circumvent immigration laws. Marriage to a U.S. citizen is one of the fastest paths to a green card. As a result, dishonest individuals use it as a vehicle to fraudulently obtain permanent residence. Marriage fraud comes in many different forms. USCIS has identified the following types of marriage fraud:

  • Someone pays a U.S. citizen to marry a foreign national;
  • A U.S. citizen marries a foreign national as a favor;
  • A foreign national defrauds a U.S. citizen who believes that their marriage is legitimate;
  • Mail-order marriages (where either the U.S. citizen or the foreign national knows that the marriage is fraudulent); or
  • Visa lottery fraudulent marriages.
Other Visa Fraud

USCIS can revoke permanent resident status if they ever learn of a misrepresentation or lie that helped you obtain a green card. Even if you've been granted status as a permanent resident, USCIS can revoke it when the underlying basis of the application is fraudulent.


Criminal Convictions

Not all criminal convictions will cause an individual to lose permanent resident status. There are certain types of criminal offenses (typically violent crimes) that are more likely to put a permanent resident in removal proceedings.

It’s impossible to create a precise list of crimes that will result in deportation. Only an experienced immigration attorney can analyze a specific situation and provide an opinion. Very generally, officials may remove a permanent resident from the United States if that person:

  • Is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude that was committed within five years after the date of U.S. admission (or ten years if the person received a green card as a criminal informant) and is punishable by a sentence of at least one year;
  • Has been convicted of two or more crimes involving moral turpitude at any time after U.S. admission, where the two crimes did not arise out of a single scheme of misconduct; or
  • Has been convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after U.S. admission.

Again, this is not a complete list. Even renewing a green card after an arrest can be problematic for certain individuals. Contact an immigration lawyer to discuss your specific case.

Although criminal lawyers have an obligation to advise you about immigration consequences of pleading guilty, most criminal lawyers do not understand the immigration laws as well as immigration lawyers do. Even if you are assured that the record will be erased or expunged, speak to an experienced immigration attorney.

If immigration officials believe that a permanent resident is deportable, the individual generally will not be removed immediately. In most cases, the green card holder will have a right to defend himself in immigration court. However, an individual with an outstanding order of removal could be deported more swiftly.


Failing to Remove Conditions on Residence

Conditional residents who fail to remove the conditions on residence are generally removable upon the expiration of their two-year green cards.

Certain foreign national investors or spouses who obtained residence through marriage may have received a two-year conditional green card. The conditional card cannot be renewed. In order to remain a permanent resident, the conditional permanent resident must file a petition to remove the conditions. They must file during the 90 days before the card expires. Upon approval, USCIS issues a 10-year green card.

Immigration officials may put the foreign national into removal proceedings if the petition is not filed by the expiration date. If the issue is left unaddressed, the foreign national will lose permanent resident status. Generally, there is a window to file late, particularly if you have a good excuse.

Citizenship is the Best Way to Secure Permanent Resident Status

Permanent residents who choose to naturalize as U.S. citizens will also lose permanent resident status in the process. But that's a good thing. U.S. citizens are protected from grounds of deportability. In other words, criminal convictions that would result in deportation for a permanent resident do not apply to a U.S. citizen. Generally, the only way immigration officials can remove a U.S. citizen is if they fraudulently obtained a green card or citizenship.

Many permanent residents who have resided in the United States for at least five years are now eligible to file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization.

Losing a Green Card

Losing a green card is not the same as losing permanent resident status. When a permanent resident loses a green card or that card is stolen, the card holder loses their proof of status. But they do not lose the underlying status. They continue to be lawfully present in the United States. They just need to replace the card.

About CitizenPath

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