A few days ago I published “Will I Lose My Green Card”. While researching the lady’s question which drove that article, I came across a couple other things many folks may never think about while living in the USA that are very, very dangerous to your “Immigration” health.
Not everyone reading here will ever be worried about their US Green card status, but many of you are in that status today, have loved ones on a Green card, or will someday be starting down the road to US citizenship that begins with a Green card … (also known as being an LPR or Lawful Permanent Resident)
Green Card Pitfall One: Time Outside the USA:
A Green Card is basically issued for two complementary but different goals.
Often it is a new immigrant’s first step toward US citizenship, and in three years (if married to a US citizen) or five years (if holding a Green card on their own) the new Immigrant can apply for US Naturalization.
In other cases, the immigrant does not wish t become a US citizen, ever. Perhaps his or her own country does not allow US citizenship.
This is not a problem. A Green Card holder can keep a Green Card and stay. lawfully in the US for as long as they wish to … that’s never a problem.
But trips outside the US do require a certain amount of caution.
If you stay outside the USA without prior permission from the USCIS for more than a year, the USCIS officer may decide, upon your return, that you have voluntarily abandoned you US LPR status. The officer may confiscate your Green Card or the spot, detain you, and put you on the first plane back to your home country. This is solely at the discretion of the officer … there is nothing you can do legally to stop this action, and it happens, more often than many would guess.
So if you have to, for example, go home to the Philippines to, perhaps, take care of a sick relative, finish your school, or whatever, be sure to file for a Reentry Permit in advance, that will normally allow you to be absent for up to two years.
But I see/hear from many foreigner spouses, for example, who want to live part time in the USA and the rest of the time back at home in the Philippines. They have no real interest in being ‘real” US permanent Residents.
Read exactly what the USCIS has to say about travel outside the USA:
Permanent residents are free to travel outside the United States, and temporary or brief travel usually does not affect your permanent resident status.
If it is determined, however, that you did not intend to make the United States your permanent home, you will be found to have abandoned your permanent resident status.
A general guide used is whether you have been absent from the United States for more than a year.
Abandonment may be found to occur in trips of less than a year where it is believed you did not intend to make the United States your permanent residence. (my emphasis)
While brief trips abroad generally are not problematic, the officer may consider criteria such as:
- Whether your intention was to visit abroad only temporarily,
- Whether you maintained U.S. family and community ties,
- Maintained U.S employment,
- Filed U.S. income taxes as a resident,
- Or otherwise established your intention to return to the United States as your permanent home.
Other factors that may be considered include:
- Whether you maintained a U.S. mailing address,
- Kept U.S. bank accounts and a
- Valid U.S. driver’s license, o
- Own property or
- Run a business in the United States,
- Or any other evidence that supports the temporary nature of your absence.
In other words, don’t use the Green Card as a substitute for a Ten year Tourist visa in your home country passport. There are a LOT of Filipinos I have met, or know of, who went to the US in one legal form ort another, took the time and spent the money to get a Green Card, and now live their lives exclusively in the Philippines, thinking the Green Card in their back pocket is going to give them free entry back into the US whenever they feel like it. They often brag, also, about avoiding US income taxes and other US government requirements. Oops. LPR’s are required to follow virtually all rules that US citizens follow, specifically to include paying taxes (which means declaring their Philippine income).
About the only privilege or responsibilities Green Card holders do NOT have, and one that can “kill’ a Green card as fast as anything, is voting in the US. That’s what I want to talk about next.
Green Card Pitfall Two: Voting or Registering to Vote in the USA:
US Voting and Lawful permanent Residents:
This is much easier to get in trouble over than one might first think. In addition to the fact there are constant community group efforts to get people registered to vote, there is a feeling many immigrants have that they want to ‘get with the program’ and start participating in the life of their new country as soon as possible.
It’s certainly understandable, and it’s a great thing to exercise your right to vote, early and often
But due to many “Get Out the Vote” initiatives, and especially the The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) (42 U.S.C. § 1973gg), also known as The Motor Voter Act, the simple act of filling out a Driver License application may register someone to vote, without them even realizing it.
Getting a Driver License is very important for most citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents as well, and it’s certainly a right and privilege that LPR’s have … but one must be very, very careful that while applying for the license, they are not unintentionally registering to vote as well.
You can’t relay upon the folks at your local DMV office to be experts on this little ‘gotcha’ in US law. You and you alone, need to make very, very sure of what you are doing, what you are signing (or filling out online) as an LPR.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse … you’ve heard that before I am sure, and based on the last Federal Election,m voter fraud and illegal registrations are a real “hot button” in many US citizen’s minds. Don’t expect anyone to ‘cut you some slack’ just because you “didn’t know”.
Many US citizens are almost radically “down” on immigrants and there are plenty of mean-spirited people out there willing to make an issue of any legal issues they come to know about regarding “foreigners” … which, of course,l in US terms, you certainly are.
One of the most important privileges of democracy in the United States of America is the right to participate in choosing elected officials through voting in elections.
There are many different types of elections in the United States, such as federal elections, state elections or local elections.
Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections.
Registering to vote or voting in a federal election is a crime if you are not a U.S. citizen.
Non-U.S. citizens, including permanent residents (green card holders), who vote, or register to vote, in a federal election also can be denied naturalization and/or removed (deported) from the United States. (my emphasis) …
So, word to the wise. make darn sure you know the purpose of boxes you might check off on your Driver License application.
Make darn sure you know what is on every form or petition you are signing, and even though you may have strong political feelings and really have a great desire to vote …
Wait Until You Are a US Citizen before you even Register!