A Green Card is Not a Visitor’s Visa

A Green Card Is Not A Vistor's Visa

A Green Card is Not a Visitor’s Visa.

(Updated 25 November 2019)

This article was published some years back.  I’ve significantly updated it and added material, because the issue has become much more critical, given the focus of the current administration.

Many of my readers either already have, or plan in the future to become quite well acquainted with the United States Permanent Resident Card, commonly known as the “Green Card” (government form number I-551)

Many folks I have chatted with in the past 17 or 18 years of being intimately interested in moving to the Philippines, living in the Philippines, bringing a Philippine citizen to the US, and other related matters, do not know much about this card, legal permanent residency status itself, and the rules, both written and unwritten that apply.

Learn the Rules Before You Firm Up Your Plans

And, of course, why would many of you?  If you were born a US citizen, you already hold the right of residency from birth and all you know about the Green card comes from movies and bad jokes about Mexican illegal’s.

A Green Card is Not a Visitor's Visa
The reverse side of Form I-551

United States Permanent Resident Card

United States Permanent Resident Card, also known as a green card, is an identification card attesting to the permanent resident status of an alien in the United States of America.

Green card also refers to an immigration process of becoming a permanent resident.

The green card serves as proof that its holder, a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), has been officially granted immigration benefits, which include permission to reside and accept employment in the USA.

The holder must maintain permanent resident status, and can be removed from the US if certain conditions of this status are not met.

Green cards were formerly issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). That agency has been absorbed into and replaced by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Shortly after re-organization BCIS was renamed to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Step One: Even Applying for a Green Card Has Benefits

An alien with a green card application can obtain two important permits while the case is pending.

The first is a temporary work permit known as the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which allows the alien to take employment in the United States.

The second is a temporary travel document, advance parole, which allows the alien to re-enter the United States.

Both permits confer benefits that are independent of any existing status granted to the alien. For example, the alien might already have permission to work in the United States under an H1-B visa.

You Can Get a Green Card After You Get a K-1

The most common way many of you become acquainted with the Green card is when a Philippine citizen is authorized to enter the US on a Fiancée Visa (K1 or K2) and then marries the US citizen who sponsors him or her.

The Fiancée visa holder may then apply for Permanent Residency in the US and eventually qualify for a Green card.

Many folks I have talked to over the years never think any farther than this into the future.

Why Bother Thinking Ahead?

They travel along in life figuring that once the non-US citizen spouse is issued his or her Green Card they can then live together in the US for as long as they wish.

If that is their real intention, they are right.

A permanent resident can stay in the US as long as s/he wishes and has most of the same rights and privileges as a US citizen.

  • They can work legally,
  • travel unrestricted within the US,
  • travel outside the US under certain conditions, and, of course,
  • pay taxes.

Green Card holders are 100% subject to the rules of US taxation, which means reporting all income from inside or outside the US, no matter where they reside.  In other words, all income, world-wide.

(Notice I said reporting income, they may escape paying tax on certain income, as a citizen may also, but the declaration of all income requirement is there.)

One Important Right an LPR does NOT have is the Right to Vote.

This is important to remember.  An LPR not only can not vote in US elections, but even the simple act of registering to vote is strictly forbidden.

This is a primary cause of LPR’s losing their residency privileges every year.  The USCIS does, indeed look for this and frequently does find our about violators.  And in today’s climate of almost continual “news flashes” and accusations of “voter fraud” and “election tampering”, an LPR wants to be very, very careful in this area.

Most states have a mousetrap in place which causes many LPR’s to violate the law, often without realizing it.  The so-called “Motor Voter” legislation passed by Congress orders states to make it very simple to register to vote when obtaining a driver’s license or state-issued ID.

It’s usually as simple as making one ‘tick mark’ on a form which asks if you want to be registered to vote.  If an LPR checks off this box, she or he just agreed to give up his or her Legal Permanent Residency status.

Be very, very, very careful when filling up forms.

But Travel Can Be An Issue

One big issue I see people running afoul of time and time again is travel.

Their plan is to travel often, or even continuously between the US, the Philippines, and even other countries as well once the Philippine spouse gets LPR (Green card) status.

Up to a point they can do this, but that point is an ever-shifting line in the sand, and every year since 2001, that line has become more and more restrictive.

The USCIS’s rule regarding the Green Card is that it is a certificate to show LPR status for those, and only those, who actually are full-time permanent residents of the US.

A Green Card holder can travel outside the US with a certain degree of freedom, but many folks I know skirt perilously close to the edge in their Green Card use.

Your Green Card Can Be Gone In An Instant

Remember the Green Card can be confiscated by any USCIS officer who believes fraud is being committed and the USCIS can revoke the LPR status essentially “at will”.

The USCIS has stated many times that the Green Card is not a permanent multi-entry visa for entering the US and they specifically watch for this.

Every single trip outside the US puts the Green Card holder’s LPR status in some degree of jeopardy.  In particular:

  • Frequent international travel”.  Is that statement obscure enough to suit you?  What constitutes “frequent” travel?  It is not in writing anywhere, it is basically at the discretion of the USCIS. is traveling outside the USA once a year or once every two years “frequent” travel.  Maybe yes, maybe no, but you’re betting your LPR status on the answer.
  • Travel outside the US for one year or longer”.  In general, this is considered an automatic abandonment of LPR status.  So some folks take the view that as long as they return to the US once each year they are safe.  That’s where the ‘frequent’ issue crops up.  (an LPR may travel outside the US for up to two years if  s/he applies for a reentry Permit before leaving the US … Reentry Permits can’t be applied for after the fact, from outside the US.).  But the key issue here is. would once a year be considered frequent?  Your guess is as good as mine.
  • Even Travel Outside the US for 6 Months May Be An Issue.  It is now very common for those abroad for even as long as 6 months now to be taken aside, questioned and warned at Ports of Entry,  Repeatedly drawing attention to oneself this way is likely a bad idea.
  • Failure to demonstrate real and viable US residency.  Some things the USCIS considers evidence of US residency are:
    • Filing US tax returns, year after year
    • Filing state tax returns (if the state of residency requires then), year after year.
    • Holding a valid driver license or state ID document
    • Owning a motor vehicle, registered in a US state
    • Having proof of insurance on that car
    • Having a current US health insurance plan
    • Owning or leasing residential property in the US.
    • Paying US utility bills
    • Paying US property taxes
    • Having current US bank accounts.
    • Having current US-based credit cards billed to aUS address

In Other Words, Are You Really a US Resident?

You get the idea I think.  Bottom line is, don’t plan your life to be a ‘sometimes’ resident of the US on nothing more than LPR (Green card) status, coming and going at will as a US citizen is allowed to do.

It may be a much better bet for a legal resident to apply for and gain US citizenship (Naturalization) and remove all these issues from his/her life.

Planning to be a ’world traveler’ on nothing but a US Green Card puts you on shaky ground.  Don’t treat the Green Card like a Visitors visa.

Note:  None of this is to be construed as legal advice.  A lawyer I am not, and your cousin Freddie who does wills and small claims court cases for the folks at the local nursing home may not know much about US immigration law, either.  If you do need legal advice, or representation, I recommend  Attny Michael Gurfinkel.  I have personal knowledge of help he has given to US and Filipino clients and he has offices in the US and in Manila.  (I have no connection with attorney Gurfinkel and I don’t get remunerated for these recommendations, by the way)

So what else do you want to know about why A Green Card is Not a Visitor’s Visa.

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