The green card is often thought to be the gold standard for immigration benefits. The legal name for the document commonly referred to as a green card is “permanent resident card.” Permanent residency is a type of permissible status in the United States for non-U.S. citizens. Although permanent residency provides the right to remain in the United States, it is accompanied by certain restrictions, limitations, and obligations. Some of those restrictions are described below.

TRAVEL

If you intend to travel outside the U.S., be cognizant of the fact that it is possible to abandon your Lawful Permanent Resident Status by frequent trips, staying away too long, the move of your family members abroad, or giving up other ties to the U.S. Contact us if you are going to be moving outside the U.S. or gone for more than a couple of months to discuss your travel plans and whether a re-entry permit or other documentation needs to be filed to preserve your status or eligibility for naturalization.

If you are receiving social security benefits and depart the U.S., you will need to review your continued eligibility to collect such benefits. If you are not a United States citizen, the law provides that your right to payments stops after you have been outside the United States for six calendar months unless you meet one of several exceptions in the law which will permit you to continue receiving benefits abroad. Contact the Social Security Administration before your depart, and be sure to notify the SSA of address changes. Failure to follow the requisite procedures could jeopardize your eligibility for naturalization. (See SSA Publication No. 05-10137, January 2006 ICN 480085.)

PETITIONING FOR RELATIVES

Once you are a lawful permanent resident, you may file a petition to sponsor a spouse or child under age 21 for immigration to the U.S., although there is a substantial waiting period under this category between the time you file the petition and when your spouse or child is approved for immigration to the U.S. You may also file a petition to sponsor a child who is over age 21, but there is an even longer waiting period for individuals in that category.

Our office can provide you with assistance and advice in processing a petition to sponsor a relative under the appropriate category. Because the waiting time is so long, we recommend you file such petitions as soon as possible if there is a possibility that your relative may wish to come to the U.S..

Once you become a U.S. citizen, the waiting period for a spouse or unmarried minor child can be eliminated. At that time, you also may file to sponsor a parent or a married child.

TAX RETURNS

Be sure to file a U.S. tax return every year. If you are married to a U.S. Citizen, don’t forget to either file a joint return with your spouse or make sure that both spouses check the appropriate box on their individual returns to indicate that they are married and filing separately.

LAWFUL PERMANENT RESIDENT CARD

Be sure to carry your Lawful Permanent Resident Card with you no matter where you go inside or outside the U.S. A copy is not good enough, and we have heard reports of people being detained when they do not have their Lawful Permanent Residence Card in their possession.

MOVING

Be sure to file a Form AR-11 within ten days of each move, and retain proof of mailing. Notify us of all changes in your address, by providing us with a copy of the AR-11. All foreign nationals who are 14 or older and who remain in the U.S. for 30 days or more must report each personal change of address to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service within ten days of the change. Changes are made on Form AR-11. http://www.uscis.gov/addresschange

In addition, all sponsors and co-sponsors of the I-864 are required to report their change of address within 30 days of the change, so long as the sponsorship agreement is still in effect. The applicable form may be found at: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/I-865.pdf.

SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS

You will need to apply for a social security card by contacting the U.S. Social Security Administration. The National Toll Free number is 800-772-1213. http://www.ssa.gov/

If you already have a social security card but it indicates that it is not valid for employment, or it is not valid for employment without a USCIS employment authorization document, you should contact Social Security with evidence of your permanent resident status, so the restrictions may be removed.

SELECTIVE SERVICE REGISTRATION

A male between the ages of 18 and 26 who has lived in the U.S. in any status other than as a lawful non-immigrant is required to register with the Selective Service System. The Selective Service System internet site is at http://www.sss.gov.

VOTING

As a lawful permanent resident, you must NOT vote in U.S. federal, state, or local elections, which are limited to U.S. citizens. There are criminal penalties for voting when you are not a U.S. citizen and it is a requirement for voting. You can be removed from the U.S. if you vote in elections limited to U.S. citizens.

WILLS

Contrary to what many people think, it may be advisable to have a will even if you do not have substantial assets. The law of your state decides who will receive your property at your death if you do not have a will. A will is a way to assure that you choose who receives your property. Please contact our office if you would like to discuss the process of establishing a will.

Estate Planning, and Will and Trust Formation

PREPARING FOR NATURALIZATION

When you file for naturalization, you will need a complete record of every trip outside the U.S. in excess of more than 24 hours. Be sure to keep a running tally of these trips and documentation, such as airline ticket stubs, as you must show that you have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the period required for physical presence (1 ½ years for spouses of U.S. Citizens and 2 ½ years for most other non-citizens).

In addition to the physical presence requirement, there is a “Continuity of Residence” requirement for naturalization purposes. If there is a break in the Continuity of Residence, then the accumulated physical presence is lost, and the physical presence period starts when the alien returns from the six month or more absence. An absence of less than six months does not break the continuity of residence; an absence of six months or more but less than one year breaks the continuity of residence unless there is a reasonable explanation for the absence. An absence of more than one year automatically breaks the continuity of residence for naturalization purposes; however there are some limited exceptions to that rule which must be considered in advance.

If you have received your green card – congratulations. As is often the case, important rights are accompanied by important responsibilities. Be informed of those responsibilities and take them seriously. If you have any questions about becoming a permanent resident or lawfully maintaining that status, please contact the immigration attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal.