US lawful permanent resident “green card” holders need to maintain primary residence in the US. Primary residence generally means being physically present inside the US more than half the time on a rolling annual basis.
Problems in Maintaining US Residence
Some LPRs are unable to return to the US on time. Others are on ex-pat assignments abroad who were free to return to the U.S., but cannot return home due to host country restrictions (such as COVID), illness, or some family or other emergency. Life circumstances result in extended absences from the United States.
What follows are some strategies to overcome problems in returning to the US for those who may be accused of failing to maintain primary US residence. Particularly notable are strategies to overcome airline boarding restrictions when trying to return to the US. This is not legal advice for your particular situation. It is general information for further research.
An LPR is a lawful permanent resident of the US. An I-551 Permanent Resident “Green” Card is valid as a travel document for absences of up to one year. An LPR does not lose US permanent resident status simply because a green card has expired or been lost. An LPR does not necessarily lose permanent resident status in the US due to being outside the US for a long period of time, even years, without reentering the US.
Consequences for Failing to Maintain Primary Residence in the US
Those who apparently fail to maintain primary US residence are subject to scrutiny by any of the immigration agencies. Customs and Border Patrol agents are especially on the alert at port inspections. A CBP officer might pressure the LPR to sign an abandonment of LPR status. Otherwise, the officer might refer an LPR to immigration court for removal proceedings. There, an immigration judge can rule that the LPR abandoned US primary residence. In that event, the judge will order the foreigner be removed from the US.
Short absences from the US of under 6 months do not interrupt the presumption that the LPR holds primary US residency. However, an LPR becomes an “applicant for admission” subject to inspection if, among other things, s/he has been outside the U.S. continuously for more than 180 days, or has abandoned or relinquished LPR status. For this reason, immigration officers at a port inspection will often pressure LPRs to agree to abandon the LPR status. The same pressure to abandon also happens sometimes by consular officers at overseas consular posts.
Don’t Agree to Abandonment
It’s not a good idea to agree to LPR abandonment if that’s not what you want. Instead of agreeing to abandonment, it may be better to ask for a hearing before an immigration judge. More importantly, it is important that you try and avoid problems by following the rules as closely as possible. I will prepare more blog posts, pointing to some of the things you can do to try and avoid the loss of your green card and gain access to the US when you remain outside the US for too long.
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