By Attorneys Lorella T. Hess and Nancy E. Miller
Your green card identifies you as a “lawful permanent resident” (LPR) of the United States, but that does not guarantee you a lifetime right to live in this country. There are several ways a person can lose LPR status. Once LPR status is lost, your green card will be cancelled (even if the card itself has not yet expired) and you can be deported from the United States or refused re-entry after a trip abroad. Even if you are permitted to reenter the country in order to fight for your status, you may be taken into custody and remain there until the question of your status is resolved. Unlike those with LPR status, United States citizenship cannot be involuntarily taken unless it is found that either the green card or citizenship was obtained through fraud.
The main ways LPR status can be lost are: fraud, abandonment, and criminal activity.
LPR status can be lost if you obtained it originally through fraud or misrepresentation. Some examples of fraud include submitting false documents with your application (like a fake birth certificate) or lying about a material fact (criminal history, marital status, educational background or employment history are just some examples).
Lawful permanent residence means just that. It means that the holder of that status resides (lives) in the United States. One who has LPR status but does not live in the U.S. is considered to have abandoned that status. In seeking to determine whether one has abandoned LPR status, the government looks to how much time the LPR spends in the United States verses how much time is spent outside. There is a rebuttable presumption that one who spends a year or more outside the U.S. has abandoned their LPR status; however, rebuttable means the presumption is not conclusive. It can be contested by showing that the intent at the time of leaving was to maintain LPR status. One who is not gone for a year at a time but spends more time out of the U.S. than in it may also be found to have abandoned their LPR status. Here again, the government looks at the whole picture. Is the green card holder returning to the U.S. for a few weeks every year but lives and works elsewhere? Such people are likely to be found to have abandoned their LPR status.
If one knows they will have to outside the U.S. for an extended period of time but does not intend to abandon their status, they should apply for a re-entry permit before they leave the U.S. If they have any irregularities in their immigration history, they should consult an immigration attorney before leaving in order to determine whether those irregularities could result in refusal of admission or deportation.
Another common way to lose LPR status is through criminal activity. Many people assume that only very serious crimes like murder or armed robbery put a green card at risk, but the true picture is much more complicated and in some cases even depends on the timing of the offense. If you have ever pled guilty to a felony or misdemeanor in this country, you probably received a warning that your conviction would carry immigration consequences including removal from the United States. Take that warning seriously. Crimes committed abroad could also jeopardize your LPR status. For this reason, it is extremely important for a non-citizen to consult with an immigration attorney and to have that attorney consult with the criminal defense attorney before deciding to accept a plea deal or take the case to trial. He or she should also consult with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney before either traveling abroad or applying for citizenship.
Fraud, abandonment or a criminal conviction can result in being placed into removal proceedings. That means being issued a Notice to Appear in Immigration Court because the government is seeking to remove you from the United States. However, even if the immigration judge finds that the LPR has committed fraud or abandoned their status or been convicted of a crime, all is not necessarily lost. Waivers and other forms of relief may be possible. That determination should be made by an immigration attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in the area of deportation defense and who will work diligently to help their clients retain their status.