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Maintaining Green Card Status

Immigration Law

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Legal permanent residence status is obtained generally via family or employer sponsorship. One of the key aspects of maintaining a green card is maintaining an existing “intent” to permanently reside in the United States. This is the issue that comes up with green card holders who move abroad. If the DHS has reason to believe an individual does not have this intention then they can bring proceedings against the individual to remove their green card. The law and policy is summarized by the USCIS as follows:

The first point is a technical point, if one is out of the country for a year or more than their actual green card is no longer valid for entry for entry. This issue is raised at a Port of Entry to the United States by Customs and Border Protection. It can be waived at entry but the CBP rarely allow that, instead they follow a “hawkish” approach to individuals with absences of a year or longer. It should be noted that legal permanent resident status is protected by law and must be removed by legal proceedings.

The second point is where individuals can potentially incur CBP scrutiny through a period of prolonged absences from the United States. For example if an individual comes into the US once a year for five years just to maintain their green card this ground was created to question that individual’s intent to reside in the US despite the fact that they were technically compliant.

Certain key actions can automatically raise a question of the green card holder’s intent if they leave the United States, specifically:

Accordingly, green card holders who move abroad temporarily must be diligent in maintaining ties to the United States and take proactive steps to protect their green card. It is important that they realize they are jeopardizing their status by extended time abroad. Just returning to the United States once a year will eventually draw the ire of the CBP and the green card holder can expect to receive progressively more intrusive and sustained questioning upon entry to the United States. Steps that green card holders who live abroad could take to protect their status include the following:

Covid-19 has affected international travel substantially. We still haven’t seen large scale revocation actions against green card holders who have been abroad for longer than a year but the risk remains. It would be prudent for green card holders to have evidence of covid-19 restrictions on entry.

Lastly, should an individual face potentially denial of entry to the United States for circumstances beyond their control they can apply for a returning resident special immigrant visa to ensure they can enter the US.


Tully Rinckey is able to assist people and organizations world-wide with domestic and international immigration matters. Attorney Michael Freestone is well versed in representing large corporations and is able to navigate complex immigration issues and analyze the facts and recommend the best course of action.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys at (202) 787-1900, or click the link below to book a consultation online.

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