How to keep your Green Card

I. TRAVEL DOCUMENTS

A. RECEIVING OUR GREEN CARD : At the time of your final interview, a stamp was placed in your passport, which is valid for six months, and which acts as your temporary “green card.” You may use that stamp as evidence of your ability to be employed in the United States, as evidence of your status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States, and for re-entry to the United States should you travel abroad, and return to the U.S. before the expiration date of that stamp. If you have not received your actual alien registration card 30 days before this temporary stamp expires, please contact our office to receive instructions concerning tracing your card, and renewing the stamp.

B. GREEN CARD AS A TRAVEL DOCUMENT: A permanent resident uses the alien registration card in lieu of a visa to return to the United States from a trip abroad of less than one year. If you were to remain outside the United States for one year or more, you would be excludable unless you obtained a returning resident visa at the consulate while overseas, or filed for and obtained a re-entry permit from the INS before you left the United States. (The returning resident visa may be difficult to obtain because the Consul must be satisfied that you could not have foreseen the need to remain outside the U.S. a year or more.)

C. RE-ENTRY PERMITS: If you will possibly be outside United States for more than one year it will be advisable to obtain a re-entry permit which will authorize you to remain outside the U.S. for up to two years. You must apply for the re-entry permit (sometimes called a “white passport”) before you leave the United States. Although the re-entry permit remains valid for two years, obtaining a re-entry permit is no guarantee you will be admitted as a returning resident after a prolonged absence.

II. LOSING YOUR RESIDENCE

A. ABANDONMENT OF PERMANENT RESIDENCE: Even short departures from the U.S. nay result in loss of permanent residence. When you are inspected by an immigration officer upon your return to the United States, you may be found to have lost your “permanent residence” if the immigration officer determines that your home is no longer in the United States. Loss of permanent residence may occur if you accept a job abroad, if you fail to file a resident tax return, if you stay outside the U.S. for more than one year without a valid re-entry permit, or if you are otherwise found to have abandoned your residence in the United States. Taking a permanent job overseas, or a job for an indefinite term, can create problems, but a clearly temporary job that is for a specific and relatively short period of time is sometimes acceptable.

In determining whether you have abandoned residence, INS (or the U.S. Consul, if you are applying for a visa as a “returning resident”) will consider a number of factors, which bear upon your intent to reside in the United States. These include the amount of time you have spent in the United States, where you are working, whether your trips abroad are clearly temporary in purpose, what your ties are to the United States, the existence of a home ill the United States, your payment, or failure to pay, taxes as a resident of the United States, your ownership of property, and the reasons for your trip abroad. Should you plan any extensive time abroad, it would be advisable to seek preliminary advice.

B. IF YOU WORK OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES: Before moving abroad to take up employment, even temporary employment, you should consult with our offices. Under certain circumstances, your residence in the United States can be preserved for naturalization purposes, and in any case, we can provide you with advice as to how to maximize your chance for maintaining your residence should that be your desire.

C. Even though you have a “green card,” you can be deported from the United States under certain circumstances, including:

-Conviction of even a minor drug related offense,

-Conviction of certain felonies,

-Conviction of any two crimes not arising out of a single scheme,

-Knowingly encouraging or aiding anyone else to enter the United States illegally or fraudulently.

-Failing to notify the immigration Service of a change of address.

-Engaging in espionage, sabotage, or terrorist activities.

D. You may also lose your status if you were ineligible to obtain the status in the first place. This can happen if INS discovers that you misrepresented yourself, or any of your documents, at the time you obtained permanent residence. You may also be found to be ineligible for permanent residence if you separated from your spouse or the employer who petitioned for you shortly after obtaining your status, and the Immigration Service finds that you did not intend to live with your spouse, or work for your employer, at the time you became a permanent resident.

E. PROCEEDINGS TO TAKE AWAY YOUR STATUS: If you are living in the United States as a permanent resident, the immigration Service can bring an action to rescind that status, or an action to deport you from the United States. The former begins wit the service by the INS of a “Notice of Intent to Rescind.” The latter being with the service of an “Order to Show Cause.” Your failure to respond to either of those documents could result in the loss of your residence, and your deportation from the United States. The Immigration Service can serve the Notice of Intent to Rescind by simply mailing it to you at the last address in their files, which you have given them. Therefore, it is extremely important that you keep ‘the Immigration Service advised of your address. Should you be faced with a criminal prosecution, or should you receive a Notice of Intent to Rescind or an Order to Show Cause, please consult our offices, or another competent immigration attorney immediately.

III. TAXATION

A. U.S. RESIDENT TAX RETURN: Every permanent resident of the United States is a U.S. tax resident. As such, you are required to pay U.S. taxes on all your income-worldwide. You do receive credit for certain taxes paid abroad. Your failure to pay taxes can result in a finding that you have abandoned your permanent residence, even if you can legitimately claim non-resident status under a tax treaty. You are also liable to state income taxes.

B. ESTATE TAXES: The estates of persons who are U.S. tax residents when deceased, are subject to U.S. estate tax. If you have not already done so, you may wish to consider consulting a professional with regard to minimizing the amount of taxes, which would be involved under such circumstances. If you do not know of an appropriate tax professional, please contact our office for a referral.

C. WILLS: Contrary to what many people thinks, it is economic to have a will even if you do not have substantial assets. More important, the law of your state decides who will have your property at your death. A will is the only way to assure that you can choose who that will be. If you do not have an attorney to attend to this for you, please contact our office to arrange to have your will drafted or reviewed.

IV. SOCIAL SECURITY

A. OBTAINING A SOCIAL SECURITY CARD: You may obtain a Social Security Card once you have employment authorization, your form I-551, or he temporary I-551 stamp in your passport. You will need to file an application for a Social Security Number in person at the Social Security Office. When filing this application at the Social Security Office, you should bring the following documents with you: your original birth certificate, passport and employment authorization document or stamped passport or I-551. Call for further information including the address of your local Social Security Office.

B. RESTRICTIONS ON YOUR S.S. CARD: If you already have your Social Security card, but it is restricted as not valid for employment, or not valid without an INS employment authorization document, you should contact Social Security with your evidence of permanent resident status to have the restrictions removed.

C. YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY ACCOUNT: Even if you have a Social Security number, you should check to make sure you received credits under Social Security for any taxable work you did before you got your I-551. Sometimes they misplace the records if you did not have a valid card, and this is the time to unscramble the records. Request a form SSA-7004, Request for Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement from Social Security to check these records. In fact, you should check your earnings statement every three to four years, because errors more than four years old cannot usually be corrected.

D. MISUSING A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER: You should be aware that it is a serious criminal offense to use someone else’s Social Security number or to use a falsely obtained one. If you have done so, seek legal advice before contacting Social Security.

E. TOTALIZATION TREATIES: If you were assigned by your employer abroad to work in the U.S. and are from a country that has a totalization treaty with the United States it may be possible to claim an exemption from U.S. Social Security taxes and to claim a refund of Social Security taxes paid by your employer in the past three tax years. In order to do this your employer overseas will have to pay into your home country’s Social Security system. This can result in a substantial refund without sacrificing your benefits if your Social Security tax rate is lower overseas. Most European countries have a totalization treaty. Countries that presently have such treaties include: Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It may be possible to claim coverage under your home country’s Social Security system even after you become a permanent resident, so it is not too late to have us examine this issue.

V. CHANGE OF ADDRESS

A. It is no longer necessary to report your address annually.

B. If you move, you are required to report your new address to the INS District Office within ten days. Failure to report your address is ground for deportation.

VI. NATURALIZATION

A. You are not a citizen of the United States. You are thus ineligible to hold public office, you may not vote, and you may not take advantage of certain tax provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. Additionally, you may not petition to bring certain relatives to the United States. You may become a citizen by being naturalized.

B. WAITING PERIOD: An individual is eligible to become a U.S. citizen no earlier than five years after they have become a lawful permanent resident, unless they are married to U.S. citizen. The application can be filed three months before the actual eligibility date.

C. PHYSICAL PRESENCE AND RESIDENCE REQUIREMENT: At the time an application for naturalization is filed, an individual must establish they have been physically present in the United States at least 30 of the previous 60 months (18 of the previous 36 for certain married persons. See Para. D below.) A departure from the United States for a year or more will presumptively break the continuous residence requirement. A departure of less than six months normally will not break residence, while a departure for more than six months and less than one year will normally break the continuous residence requirement, unless explained.

D. WAITING PERIOD FOR CERTAIN PERSONS MARRIED TO CITIZENS: An individual who is married to a U.S. citizen, and has lived with that individual for three years as a resident, is eligible to file for naturalization in three years, rather than five. This special rule does not apply if you are living apart from your spouse. The rule is applicable, whether or not you obtained your “green card” as a result of this marriage. If your citizen spouse has been assigned abroad by a U.S. corporation developing international trade, or certain governmental international or nonprofit organizations, you may be eligible to naturalize immediately in an expedited procedure before you leave the United States, without regard to certain residence requirements.

E. PRESERVING RESIDENCE: If you leave the United States to work for a U.S. government agency, an international agency, certain religious organizations, or an American-owned company you may, under certain circumstances qualify for relief from the continuous residence requirement. If you fail to seek this relief you may have to wait up to three years additional time to qualify for naturalization. This relief should be applied for before you depart the United States.

F. EXAMINATION: In addition to meeting the above requirements you will have to show that you are a person of good moral character, and pass a test in U.S. government and history, as well as a simple test of your ability to read and write English. Long time elderly residents and those with impairments may qualify for exemption from the English language requirements.

G. NATURALIZATION PROCEDURES: The process currently takes eight to ten months in Miami. After several months you will receive notice of examination. At that examination you will be tested on government, history and English language. In addition, the INS officer may examine whether you received your permanent resident status lawfully and whether you remained with the spouse or employer who petitioned for you for a reasonable period of time after obtaining your permanent residence. Because the naturalization examiner is trained to challenge your permanent residence, it is wise to have representation when you file for naturalization.

H. DUAL CITIZENSHIP: The law of your country may allow you to retain your citizenship after you become a U.S. citizen.

VII. MILITARY DUTY

A. THE DRAFT: The United States does not currently have a draft. However, all men age 18 to 26 are required to register for Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday, or within 30 days of the time they become permanent residents of the United States. (In fact, aliens who are not in lawful non-immigrant status are also required to register.) If you become a permanent resident before your 26th birthday, you are required to register for Selective Service. If you have a son who holds a “green card” or is a U.S. citizen, he is required to register within 30 days of his 18th birthday. Notwithstanding the fact that you have registered with the Selective Service, you may be exempt from military service based on your nationality. However, claiming such exemption could disqualify you from citizenship. Failure to register will also bar you from U.S. citizenship.

B. HOW TO REGISTER: You may complete your Selective Service Registration at any U.S. Post Office. The form is a simple postcard type document.

VIII. PETITIONING FOR RELATIVES

A. You may file a petition for a spouse or child under age 21 once you have been approved for permanent residence even though your Form 1-551 Green Card has not arrived in the mail. There is a substantial waiting period under this category. You may also file for a child over age 21 who is unmarried, but the waiting period is currently eight years or longer.

B. Once you become a citizen the waiting period for a spouse or unmarried child can be eliminated. In addition you can file for a parent or a married child. There is no waiting period for a parent, but the waiting period for a married child is currently at least one and one-half years for all countries. In addition you can file a petition for a brother or a sister, but the waiting period is currently projected to be more than ten years.

C. Our office can provide you with assistance and advice in processing a petition to classify eligible relatives under an appropriate category. Because the waiting lists are so long, we recommend that you file such petitions if there is a possibility that your relative may wish to come to the United States at some time in the future. Should your relative desire to come to the United States more quickly; we can advise you as to what other paths may be available. Please keep in mind that the mere filing of a petition may, in some cases, make it harder for your relatives to obtain a visitor visa to come to the United States.

IX. MAINTAINING CONTACT WITH ACPA

It has been our pleasure to have the opportunity to have assisted you in obtaining your goal of becoming a permanent resident of the United States. If you keep us advised of your address, we will attempt to notify you of critical matters, such as eligibility for naturalization, or other matters, which may affect your status. Should you need the help of a lawyer in the future, we hope you will call upon us. Should you be so inclined, we would appreciate your providing our names to your friends or relatives who may need the services of ACPA.

Thank you for the opportunity to have been of service.

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