Consumer Pamphlet: U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents
Note: This pamphlet is available online only.
MAINTAINING STATUS AS AN Lawful Permanent Resident IN THE U.S.
ELIGIBILITY FOR U.S. CITIZENSHIP
Residence and physical presence
Good moral character
Attachment to the Constitution
Knowledge of the English language
Knowledge of U.S. history and government
Oath of allegiance
Waivers, exceptions and special cases
You can lose your lawful permanent resident status, either intentionally or by accident, particularly if you remain outside the United States for too long, commit certain crimes or violate other immigration laws. It is important that you know what actions to avoid and what steps to take to protect your lawful permanent resident status.
Maintaining Status as a Lawful Permanent Resident in the U.S.
If you are an immigrant who is returning to an unrelinquished lawful permanent residence in the United States after a temporary absence abroad not exceeding one year, you must present your Form I-551, Alien Registration Receipt Card or Permanent Resident Card (otherwise known as a “green card”). The definition of “temporary” absence cannot be defined in terms of its length. It is determined by the facts and circumstances of each case. Entry into the United States once a year for one or several days does not preserve your permanent residence status. Entries must be “meaningful,” as you must reside in the United States.
If your temporary absence abroad has exceeded one year, you can no longer use your green card as a travel document. You may present a valid re-entry permit in lieu of a returning resident visa.
If you have been outside the United States for more than one year and you do not have an immigrant visa or a valid re-entry permit, you may apply for a waiver of this requirement if you can show good cause for failing to present a valid document.
In addition to presenting a valid entry document as a lawful permanent resident, you must always be able to demonstrate that you were a lawful permanent resident at the time you departed the United States, that you departed the United States with the intention to return and that you are returning from a temporary visit abroad. If your stay abroad was lengthy, you must demonstrate that your stay was due to reasons beyond your control for which you were not responsible and that you maintained your U.S. residence.
You may apply for a re-entry permit before your departure from the United States. You must be physically present in the United States at the time the application is made. A re-entry permit allows a permanent resident to apply for admission to the United States upon return from abroad during the period of the permit’s validity without the necessity of obtaining a returning resident visa. However, possession of a valid re-entry permit does not guarantee your re-entry to the United States.
Lawful permanent residents are generally taxed on worldwide income. Consult your tax professional with any questions or for more information.
You must be careful when considering any foreign earned income exclusions or other exemptions to avoid scrutiny by U.S. immigration authorities, which may view such tax positions to be inconsistent with lawful permanent resident status.
You may be subject to loss of your lawful permanent resident status and subsequent deportation if you engage in certain criminal activity, including misdemeanor offenses, even if adjudication of guilt is withheld.
Possibly the broadest category of crimes that may result in the loss of your lawful permanent resident status are crimes involving moral turpitude, which generally involve inherently immoral conduct.
The most serious offense is a crime defined as an “aggravated felony,” which includes, among others, murder, rape, drug trafficking, fraud and crimes of violence.
Waivers or other legal defenses may be available in some instances. It is important that you seek the advice of competent immigration counsel before you attempt to resolve any criminal issues.
Your continued intention to remain a lawful permanent resident is central to preserving your LPR status; however, a mere statement to this effect is not by itself sufficient. You should:
- Always file U.S. tax returns as a resident.
- Always obtain a re-entry permit if you will remain abroad for more than a year.
- Maintain your United States bank accounts, credit cards and driver’s license.
- Maintain memberships in professional and/or social organizations.
Remember that U.S. immigration authorities may consider the following in determining whether you have abandoned your lawful permanent resident status:
- Place of your actual home.
- Place of your employment.
- Location of your close family members.
- Your spouse and children’s immigration status.
- Ownership of property.
Eligibility for U.S. Citizenship
To apply for U.S. citizenship, you must be at least 18 years of age.
An applicant must have been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence. U.S. military veterans who served during a designated period of hostility, however, are exempt from the permanent residency requirement. Lawful permanent residents have been issued an 1-551, Alien Registration Receipt Card (green card). Your application must include a copy of your green card.
You are eligible to file for U.S. citizenship if, immediately preceding the filing of your application, you:
- Have been lawfully admitted to permanent residence for five years.
- Have resided continuously as a lawful permanent resident in the United States for at least five years before filing, with no absences from the United States for a consecutive period of more than one year. (Absences of more than six months but less than one year break the continuity of residence unless you can establish that you did not abandon your residence during such period.)
- Have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the previous five years.
- Have resided within a state or district for at least three months.
If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, are a member of the military or received your residency through VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), you may be eligible to apply for naturalization after three years, rather than five. You must be living in “marital union” with your U.S. citizen spouse the entire three years, up to and including the application period, although persons protected under VAWA may be exempt from this requirement. Proof of the bona fide relationship will be requested at your interview.
Current and former members of the military are generally exempt from paying filing and biometrics fees associated with naturalization.
You must demonstrate that you have been a person of good moral character for the statutory period (five years, three years or one year) before filing for naturalization. You are permanently barred from naturalization if you have ever been convicted of murder. You are also permanently barred from naturalization if you have been convicted of an aggravated felony as defined in section 101 (a)(43) of the Immigration and Nationality Act on or after Nov. 29, 1990. You also cannot establish the required good moral character if during the statutory period you, for example:
- Have committed and been convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude.
- Have committed and been convicted of two or more offenses for which the total sentence imposed was five years or more.
- Have been convicted or admitted to having violated any controlled substance law, except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.
- Have been confined to a penal institution during the statutory period as a result of a conviction, for an aggregate period of 180 days or more.
- Have committed and been convicted of two or more gambling offenses.
- Earn income principally from illegal gambling.
- Have been involved in prostitution or commercialized vice.
- Have been involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States.
- Are or have been a habitual drunkard.
- Have practiced polygamy.
- Have willfully failed or refused to support dependents.
- Have given false testimony, under oath, in order to receive a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
- Fail to establish good moral character based upon the elements enumerated above and the standards of the average citizen in the community of residence.
You must demonstrate that you are attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States.
You must be able to read, write, speak and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language. You are exempt from this requirement if, on the date you file your application, you:
- Have been residing in the United States subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 15 years and are over 55 years of age.
- Have been residing in the United States subsequent to lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and you are over 50 years of age.
- Have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects your ability to learn to read, write, speak English.
You must demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history and of the principles and form of government of the United States. You are exempt from this requirement if, on the date of filing your application, you have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects your ability to learn U.S. history and government.
You will be given special consideration in fulfilling this requirement if you have been residing in the United States for at least 20 years and are over the age of 65.
You must take an oath of allegiance that you will:
- Support the Constitution and obey the laws of the United States.
- Renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title.
- Bear arms for the armed forces of the United States or perform services for the government of the United States when required.
In certain cases, U.S. immigration authorities may allow you to take a modified oath if you establish that you are opposed to any type of service in the armed forces based upon religious beliefs or deeply held moral or ethical code.
Waivers, exceptions and special cases
There are a number of exceptions to the normal residence and physical presence requirements, including, among others:
- Employees under contract abroad by the U.S. government, certain U.S. research institutions, certain U.S. firms or corporations or certain public international organizations.
- Spouses of U.S. citizens employed abroad.
- Religious workers (including missionaries, brothers, nuns or sisters) performing ministerial or priestly functions.
- Certain members of the military.
- Spouses of U.S. citizens who died during a period of honorable service in an active duty status in the armed forces of the United States.
- Certain veterans who served honorably in periods of armed conflict.
- Employees of certain nonprofit organizations.
The Federal Trade Commission offers an Immigration Toolkit with helpful resources for advocates and consumers in immigrant communities.
The material in this pamphlet represents general legal advice. Because the law is continually changing, some provisions may be out of date. It is always best to consult an attorney about your legal rights and responsibilities regarding your particular case.
This pamphlet is produced as a public service for consumers by The Florida Bar.
[Updated March 2018]