Lawful admission for permanent residence is defined as “the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws, such status not having changed.” A person who immigrates to the United States attains status as a lawful permanent resident, or “LPR.” As evidence of his or her status, an LPR is issued a Form I-551, Alien Resident Card (popularly referred to as a “green card”).
An LPR has the right to live and work in the United States, to travel abroad for any temporary purpose, and to return to the United States following such travel. An LPR is additionally entitled to sponsor qualified relatives and apply for naturalization as a United States citizen upon fulfillment of the requirements therefor.
It is important to note that an LPR remains a non-citizen of the United States. As such, he or she is subject to laws that can result in the loss of permanent resident status, either by abandonment or as a result of removal (formerly referred to as deportation or exclusion). Voluntary abandonment of LPR status can occur when an immigrant decides to depart the United States to return permanently to his or her home country or to immigrate to some other country. In such a situation, the former LPR may voluntarily surrender his or her green card at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
In a great majority of cases, an LPR returning to the United States after a short trip (not exceeding one year) need only show his or her green card for reentry. These LPRs are considered “returning residents.” In some situations, however, a person’s right to reenter as a returning resident may be questioned, and his or her case referred to an immigration judge to determine whether U.S. residence was actually abandoned. In order to qualify as a returning resident alien, a person who has previously been accorded LPR status must establish that he or she is seeking to return to the U.S. from a “temporary visit abroad.” Problems can arise at the airport or border when a green-card holder has been away from the United States for an extended period of time, either on a single trip or a series of trips. Whether or not the person can prove that his or her absence was “temporary” and gain readmission to the United States will depend upon the particular circumstances of the case. Elapsed time is not the sole factor – rather, the individual’s intent, when it can be determined, will control. An immigration inspector or an immigration judge in removal proceedings will consider the location of the person’s family ties, property holdings, and job in determining his or her intent. The inspector or judge will also consider the purpose for departing from the United States, that is, whether the visit abroad could have been expected to terminate within a relatively short period of time and whether the termination date could be fixed by some early event. Thus, a person who has been involuntarily detained abroad due to lengthy court proceedings or a sudden illness will generally not be found to have abandoned his or her LPR status. Similarly, a person who accepts a temporary job assignment outside of the United States, and who can prove the temporary nature of the overseas assignment by producing an employment contract with a fixed term of relatively short duration, will normally be found to have retained LPR status. On the other hand, a person who decides to quit his job, sell his house, and return to his home country to seek employment for an indefinite period of time will likely be found to have abandoned his LPR status.
A person who will be away from the United States for an extended period of time for a temporary purpose is well-advised to apply to USCIS for a Permit to Re-Enter the United States, or reentry permit. To obtain a reentry permit, an applicant must explain the purpose and expected duration of his or her planned absence from the U.S. and establish that the absence will be temporary in nature. The application must be filed while the LPR is in the United States. Securing a reentry permit, which is valid for up to two years, will greatly facilitate an LPR’s entry upon return to the United States.