By JoAnn L. Barten, J.D., Iowa Immigration Attorney
Permanent residents (green card holders) can lose their status even if they visit the U.S. often. Once an immigrant has received their green card, typically she or he wants to keep residency and have the ability to travel abroad. The regulations and rules residents must follow to avoid losing their green card can be confusing.
The process of losing residency is called "abandonment or relinquishment." The abandonment process is typically - but not always - involuntary and can occur by Customs & Border Protection office determining a permanent resident has abandoned their residency when they inspect the resident in line at the airport or other port of entry. It can also occur by Customs and Border Protection or by Citizenship and Immigration Services issuing a Notice to Appear in front of an Immigration Judge for a removal/deportation hearing to determine abandonment.
To avoid a finding of abandonment of your permanent residency status you must show two elements:
Abandonment of residency is measured from the moment the person first establishes residence outside the U.S. This means, it does not necessarily matter how short a time the person leaves the U.S. on a trip if the true intention is to move abroad. In one case, a person who expressed to the U.S. government that they did not intend to leave the U.S., but at the same time resided in Rome for 3 years, was found to have a principal dwelling place in Rome rather than the U.S.
You must show your objective intention to return to the U.S. For this reason it is important to keep and store documents to support your intent to have your residence in the U.S. Examples of such items are mortgages, club memberships, church membership records, utility and insurance bills, a vehicle, vehicle registration, filing taxes as a resident, maintaining a U.S. driver’s license, bank accounts, etc.
The regulations require automatic invalidation of your green card for trips over one year unless the resident meets an exception found at INA § 316(b). One example of an exception is where a resident is employed or under contract abroad with the government of the United States.
(If you are planning a long absence, get a reentry permit before leaving. Please see Reentry Permit Process for U.S. Permanent Residents to learn more.)
In addition to maintaining your green card status, if you are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen in the future, you do not want to create a disruption of your residency for naturalization purposes. These requirements are in addition to avoiding abandonment requirements above.
1. State residence requirement. You must live 3 months in the state where the application is filed. See INA § 316(a)(1).
2. Physically present 1/2 of the last five years. You must be on U.S. soil or a U.S. territory at least 2