Maintaining Green Card and Citizenship

You have worked hard to obtain your U.S. permanent residence (“green card”).  Make sure you protect your status and do not lose your green card.   Most people lose their permanent residence in two ways:  abandonment or committing certain crimes.

Abandonment

Because you are now a “permanent resident”, there is an expectation for you to reside in the U.S.  Of course, you are free to travel outside of the U.S.  However, you may lose your permanent residence by extended absence from the U.S. or abandoning your permanent residence.  The general rules are:

  • Short Trips:  If your primary residence is in the U.S., and you leave the U.S. only for brief trips abroad, such as vacations or business trips, there is no need to be concerned about retention of your permanent resident status.
  • Consecutive absence for 6 months or less:  Usually not a problem.  However, there are  exceptions.  Particularly, if still run the risk of losing your permanent residence if you have a pattern of long absences from the U.S. (even they do not last for six months or more), your primary home is not in the U.S., or you work outside of the U.S.
  • Consecutive absence for 6 to 12 months:  Presumed loss of permanent residence, but you may provide evidence to show the contrary. 
  • Consecutive absence for 12 months or more:  You will lose your green card, unless you have been issued a “reentry permit.” 

Please speak to us first before you plan any long absences from the U.S.      

Crimes

You may also lose your green card by criminal admission or conviction.  Many seemingly “minor” crimes carry severe immigration consequences, and nearly all drug and sex offences will result in deportation. 

If you acquire your permanent residence through marriage to a U.S. citizen, you will become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship after you have been a permanent resident for three years (including the time of your conditional residence).   If you received your permanent residence through other means, the wait is five years. 

There are specific requirements related to naturalization.  Three of the most important requirements are:

  • You must have “good moral character”, which loosely means that you have not violated any serious law;
  • You must have lived physically in the U.S. for at least 50% of the three years immediately preceding your application for naturalization. 
  • You must have continued “residence” in the U.S., which loosely means you have never left the U.S. for more than 6 months continuously. 

In addition, you should maintain strong ties in the U.S. and continue to file income tax returns as a U.S. resident.   However, there are many more requirements.  You may obtain more information from the USCIS website.  In addition, you should keep a record of all departures from and entries to the U.S. as a permanent resident.  This information is required for the naturalization application.

You will also be given an English test and an American history test.  The English test is relatively straight forward.  USCIS is not expecting perfect English.  However, they do expect that you can carry on a conversation (or naturalization interview) with the immigration officer in English.  You will also be expected to write a short sentence in English, such as “citizens can vote”.  The American history test, on the other hand, requires some studying.  USCIS does provide study aides on their website, and they are remarkably good.  See:  https://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/naturalization-test.  All the questions will come from the study guides.  Usually, you will be given 10 questions at the naturalization interview, and you must answer at least 7 of them correctly. 

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