For those who have completed the lengthy and difficult process of obtaining their U.S. permanent residency, there may still be many questions, particularly for those who have spent several years in nonimmigrant status. Below are frequently asked questions we encounter from recent permanent residents, on subjects such as permissible vs. impermissible activities, how to preserve your green card status, how to prepare for a future naturalization application, and more.
Do I need to remain employed with my I-140 petitioner for a certain period of time after receiving my green card?
No, there is no requirement that you remain employed for a particular period of time with the I-140 petitioner after receiving your permanent residency, since the I-140 immigrant petition is based on a valid job offer. Since the provisions of AC21 expressly permit adjustment of status applicants to change employers prior to the I-485 application approval, USCIS cannot require that you remain employed with the petitioner after the green card is issued.
Can permanent residents
start a company? Yes.
be unemployed? Yes.
collect unemployment benefits if I am unemployed? Yes, if you meet the eligibility requirements in your state.
trade stocks? Yes.
open a small business, such as a restaurant? Yes.
be a president of an LLC? Yes.
Do I need to carry my permanent resident card at all times?
No, it only needs to be presented during international travel in combination with your passport, or if you are using it for proof of work authorization.
What if I lose/misplace my permanent resident card, or it is stolen?
File Form I-90 as soon as possible to replace it – it can take over a year to process (the current posted processing time is 15 months). In the meantime, you are still a permanent resident and are authorized to be in the U.S. If you need to travel internationally, call USCIS to make an Infopass appointment at your nearest field office to request the I-551 stamp in your passport, which will enable you to travel while the replacement is pending. If you start a new job while the I-90 is pending and need to provide evidence of work authorization, a copy of the I-90 receipt notice may be presented. We recommend keeping a photocopy of the permanent residence card in your records.
For how long is the green card valid?
10 years. The application for renewal (also the I-90 form) can begin 6 months prior to the 10-year mark. The I-90 application can be submitted online.
What is the maximum amount of time I can be physically outside the U.S., once I have my green card?
The green card is meant for permanent residence, and CBP can revoke it at the border if they believe you are not really residing in the U.S. anymore. If you stay outside the U.S. for more than 1 year continuously, there is a presumption that you have abandoned your permanent residence, unless you have filed the I-131 application and received a Re-Entry Permit beforehand (please note that the I-131 must be filed while you are still in the U.S., can will not be accepted if you are already abroad). If you are outside the U.S. for 6 months continuously or more, expect to be questioned by border patrol when returning – you should be prepared to prove you are still living in the U.S. and explain the length of your absence, if you do not have a Re-Entry Permit. Even if a lengthy departure does not result in loss of a green card, please note that it may prolong the time before you are eligible to apply for naturalization, due to the continuous residence and physical presence requirements. If you are planning to go to be outside the U.S. for more than 6 months at a time, we recommend that you contact an immigration lawyer beforehand to discuss the risks.
What is Selective Service? Do all green card holders need to enroll?
The Selective Service System maintains information on U.S. citizens and residents (including green card holders) who are potentially subject to military conscription. Male permanent residents aged 18 to 25 are required to enroll.
Can a derivative applicant apply for naturalization independently from the principal I-485 applicant (the I-140 beneficiary)?
Yes, the principal I-485 applicant does not need to apply for naturalization in order for the derivative to apply. The N-400 application is based on each person’s individual permanent residence and eligibility, and is no longer attached to family members’ applications. One spouse can become a citizen while the other remains a green card holder if they choose to, for example.
Is filing tax returns mandatory? What if I am not employed and have no income?
You are required to file tax returns yearly with the IRS as a permanent resident, even if your income is below the filing threshold during the tax year. Tax return filings will need to be provided when applying for naturalization.
Green card holders can lose their permanent residence and be subject to removal proceedings for certain criminal convictions or arrests, depending on the offense. It is recommended to consult an attorney versed in criminal immigration matters for any arrests/charges besides common traffic violations. Even if an arrest or conviction does not result in loss of a green card, it can prolong the amount of time before you can apply for citizenship since the N-400 application requires showing “good moral character” in at least the 5-year period preceding the application.
Please also note that although marijuana is legal in many states, it is still classified by the federal government as a Schedule I illegal substance and therefore should not be used/purchased/invested in by green card holders, as it can jeopardize your permanent residence and/or naturalization later. This includes marijuana extracts such as CBD.
In addition, representing yourself as a U.S. citizen by enrolling to vote, even accidentally, can be a very serious offense. Inadvertent enrollment as a voter can occur when applying for or renewing a driver’s license, as many DMVs provide voter registration forms at the same time. Permanent residents who have accidentally enrolled to vote should also contact an immigration attorney immediately.
By: Rebecca Chen
Rebecca Chen is a Partner at Reddy & Neumann. Her representation includes advising clients throughout the non-immigrant and immigrant visa application process, from initial filing, responding to various requests for evidence, and processing at overseas consulates. Her years of experience in the immigration field have made her a knowledgeable resource for complex business immigration matters.
Reddy & Neumann has been serving the business community for over 20 years and is Houston’s largest immigration law firm focused solely on US. employment-based immigration. We work with both employers and their employees, helping them navigate the immigration process quickly and cost-effectively.