Can You Lose Your Permanent Residency?

Posted by Frank Gogol

You’ve finally made it! You’re a lawful permanent resident of the United States! You can now live and work in America permanently and have access to the many other benefits of lawful permanent residency – similar to a U.S. citizen.

Before you get too excited, though, you might be wondering, can you lose your permanent residency? In fact, yes, you can. But only in very specific circumstances. Let’s take a look. 

What is a Permanent Resident? 

Once you get your green card, you are a permanent resident of the U.S. There are many benefits to being a lawful permanent resident, which you can read more about here. If you haven’t already gone through the process of applying for a green card, you can also find tips to apply for your green card here

The focus of this article will be, can you lose your permanent residency once you’ve already obtained it. 

Can You Lose Your Permanent Residency

Even though permanent residency provides you with a permanent right to live and work in the U.S., you can still lose your permanent residency. There are actually a variety of reasons you could lose your permanent residency. Unfortunately, losing your permanent residency could lead to deportation. 

Losing your permanent residency doesn’t happen automatically, though. In most cases, if any of the below scenarios apply, you will have a chance to defend yourself in an immigration court. It may also only come up once you try to apply for naturalization (U.S. citizenship). When you apply to become a U.S. citizen, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will have a few questions to ask, and they will also scrutinize your permanent resident status. If there is anything that could cause you to lose our permanent residency status that wasn’t picked up before, there is a good chance it will be picked up then. 

So how can you then lose your permanent residency? 

5 Ways to Lose Your Permanent Residency

Below we look at the 5 most common reasons you could lose your permanent residency. This isn’t an exhaustive list, though, so if you are concerned, you might lose your lawful permanent resident status consult an immigration attorney.

1. Live Outside the United Status for Too Long

If you are a green card holder and you live outside of the U.S. for too long, you could lose your permanent residency status. This is considered “abandonment” of your permanent residency status. 

Generally, this would be where you spend more than 12 months outside of the U.S. without special permission. Shorter absences can, however, also trigger “abandonment” if the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer believes you intended to live outside of the U.S.

You might leave the U.S. with no intention to abandon your permanent resident status (for example, to take care of a sick family member). However, your absence could still show a different intention. 

If you need to leave the U.S. for an extended amount of time, plan well, and prepare. Make sure you know exactly what to do and what not to do while you are outside of the U.S. If you need to leave for an extended period, apply for a re-entry permit. A re-entry permit can allow you to be out of the U.S. for up to 24 months without leading to the abandonment of permanent resident status.

Here are also some things you can do to show you haven’t abandoned your lawful permanent resident status:

  • Make sure you file your taxes on time while you are outside of the U.S.
  • Buy a home or sign a long term lease in the U.S.
  • Don’t have a permanent home anywhere outside the U.S. (except if it is only for holiday purposes)
  • Open a bank account in the U.S. and get a U.S. driver’s license.

2. Choosing to Surrender Your Permanent Residency

Lawful permanent residents can also voluntarily surrender their permanent residency by filing a Form I-407, Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status

It may sound odd that someone would voluntarily give up their lawful permanent resident status. Still, it is actually more common than you think! The most popular reason people voluntarily surrender lawful permanent residency is to escape the obligation to pay tax in the U.S. 

Also, be careful, there are cases where a CBP Officer can ask individuals to sign a Form I-470. This would be where the CBP Officer believes you have abandoned your permanent resident status, as discussed above. If a CBP Officer asks you to sign this form, you aren’t obliged to. Unless you want to abandon your lawful permanent resident status, you definitely shouldn’t. Generally, you have the right to defend yourself from removal proceedings, but if you sign the Form I-407, you give up this right. 

3. Willful Misrepresentation or Fraud

This would be where you have lied to obtain immigration benefits. Any information you have provided in your immigration attempts, which is not one hundred percent the truth, can be regarded as willful misrepresentation or fraud. It doesn’t matter at what stage in the process it happened (preparing documents, providing evidence, interview, etc.). If the USCIS finds out you lied, you can lose your permanent resident status. This most often happens when individuals want to apply for naturalization.

One of the most common cases of immigration fraud is marriage fraud. Getting married to a U.S. citizen is one of the quickest ways to get a green card. Many people get married just to get a green card and then get divorced later. This is marriage fraud, and if the USCIS finds out your marriage was fraudulent, you could be deported. 

4. Being Convicted of a Crime

Certain actions and crimes are known as “deportable offenses,” which could lead to you losing your permanent resident status. Not all criminal convictions will lead to this, however. There isn’t a precise list of deportable offenses, but generally, the following could lead to you losing your permanent resident status:

  • If you committed a crime involving moral turpitude within your first 5 years in the U.S., which is punishable by a sentence of at least one year.
  • If you are convicted of an aggravated felony at any time after you’ve entered the U.S.
  • You are in possession of illegal drugs.

Remember, this isn’t an exhaustive list. If you are concerned about a crime you have committed (no matter how small), it would be a good idea to discuss it with an immigration attorney. They will be able to advise whether your specific action could be a deportable offense. 

5. Failing to Remove Conditions on Your Status

If you are a spouse who obtained residence through your marriage or you are a foreign national investor, you would first have received a two-year conditional permanent residency. To move over to permanent residency, you must file a petition to remove the conditions of your residency 90 days before your green card expires. For investors, you would have to file a Form I-829, Petition by Entrepreneur to Remove Conditions. If you married a U.S. citizen, you have to file a Form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence.

If you don’t file the petition before the expiration date of your green card, you will be placed in removal proceedings. You will also lose your permanent resident status.  

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So, can you lose your permanent residency? Yes, you can. Despite permanent residency being permanent, there are situations where you could lose your lawful permanent resident status. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen that easily. If you are faced with the possibility of losing your permanent residency, the best thing you can do is contact an immigration attorney you trust who can help guide you through the process.

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