What is a Green Card?
Green card holders are legal permanent residents of the United States. The terms “green card” and “permanent resident” are used interchangeably. The commonly used term “green card” is slang.
Green Card – Rights and Privileges
Green card holders are able to live and work in the U.S. They can also travel and return to the country legally with their foreign passports and valid green cards. Green card holders can even petition for some other close family members to also become green card holders.
Having a green card and being a permanent resident is not the same thing as being a U.S. citizen. However, eligible green card holders may later apply for naturalization, which leads to full U.S. citizenship.
There are time constraints placed on how long green card holders are allowed to stay out of the country. If they make their home elsewhere, they can lose their green card status. There are specific laws that govern green card holders who leave the U.S. for a period of time. Those laws primarily concern intent to permanently reside in the U.S. and time spent outside of the U.S.
Green Card Holders – Travel
In general, green card holders who stay out of the U.S. for more than 6 months but less than 1 year are presumed to have abandoned their green card status. When trying to return to the U.S. after having been gone between 6 months and 1 year, those green card holders should have a chance to prove that they have not abandoned the U.S. as their permanent residence. Green card holders that stay out of the U.S. for more than 1 year at a time encounter worse problems. Their green card becomes automatically void and they can be put into deportation proceedings even if they are allowed back into the United States. Green card holders who do not abandon the U.S. as their primary residence and who stay out of the U.S. for less than 6 months at a time generally do not encounter difficulties upon reentering the U.S.
However, arrests and/or convictions even if those were properly disclosed to the U.S. government during the immigration process can nevertheless present difficulties to the green card holder who leaves the U.S. and then tries to legally reenter. Those green card holders should travel with certified copies of their conviction or related records. They should not leave the U.S. without first obtaining the advice of their immigration attorney.
As mentioned, a green card holder can face deportation under some circumstances. However, a foreign individual that has completed the naturalization process and become a U.S. citizen cannot be legally deported. Naturalized citizens have the same rights, legal protections, and privileges as persons born in the U.S. For example, they can legally vote in federal, state, and local elections.
There are some exceptions to that. A person may be “denaturalized” for lying about important facts in their background that if known to the U.S. government would have made that person ineligible for immigration to begin with. A denaturalized person can then be deported. Those situations are relatively rare and they usually occur after many years of court proceedings.
Green Card Holder – Reentry Permit
Some green card holders may apply for a “reentry permit” that allows them to stay out of the U.S. for up to two years at a time without losing their green card status. Green card holders with a reentry permit are still required to continue to maintain the intention to permanently reside in the U.S. and to resume living there in the future.
The reentry permit must be applied for while the green card holder is still in the U.S. The required fingerprinting must also occur in the U.S. Then the applicant can remain in the U.S. for the reentry permit to be issued to them and leave. Or instead they can choose to leave the U.S. after filing the reentry permit application and undergoing fingerprinting, and elect to receive their reentry permit abroad.
Reentry permits can be renewed a limited number of times. The reentry permit application is filed using immigration Form I-131.