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Green Card violations
How you could lose your U.S. residency

By John Manley
April 18, 2000
The Iranian

The re-entry permit in the U.S. is often known simply as the White Passport. A common scenario for its use could include an Iranian Green Card holder who wants to go back to Iran for a period of time. This person typically obtains the re-entry permit and leaves the country for a year or two.

I have noticed these people often leave under the assumption that the re-entry permit will grant them entry back into the United States. In most cases it does. However, the permit does not prevent the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from inquiring into whether the Green Card holder has abandoned his permanent residency.

An Immigration official at the airport will look at the following criteria to determine whether a Green Card holder has abandoned his residency (source: Kurzban's Immigration Law Sourcebook):

1. What is the purpose of the alien's departure? Did the alien have a specific purpose in leaving? For example, the alien could have left for wrapping up the affairs of a deceased relative, or left for a specific temporary job posting, etc.

2. Does a fixed termination date exist for the visit abroad?

3. Does an objective intention to return to U.S. as place of permanent employment or actual home exist? Factors: family ties, job, income tax returns, club memberships, mortgages, etc.

If an Immigration official believes an alien has abandoned his Green Card he can serve the alien with a Notice To Appear in The Removal Court (deportation court). At that point, an Immigration Judge will examine the factors referred to above.

INS can make this inquiry at any time, regardless of how long a Green Card holder has left the country. For example, suppose a Green Card holder leaves the country, marries abroad, works abroad, and fails to file taxes. Suppose also that he or she returns to the United States every two to three months. INS can easily charge this person with abandonment of his permanent residency and place the Green Card holder into removal proceedings.

Using the above criteria no fixed termination date exists for the Green Card holder's visit abroad. He or she has married abroad, works in a foreign country, and maintains no family ties in this country. He did not file taxes and did not pay any bills in the United States. His or her purpose was undoubtedly to live abroad and not in the United States.

A significant number of Green Card holders in this position will also not have filed U.S. income taxes while abroad. These people can easily lose their Green Cards. A re-entry permit will not help under these circumstances.

What will the re-entry permit do for a Green Card holder?

If a permanent resident has a definite purpose of departure or a fixed termination date for the visit abroad, this person should apply for a re-entry permit, especially if his trip will last more than six months.

The Green Card holder should continue to maintain as many financial ties as possible to the U.S. He or she should continue paying income taxes, as well as maintaining a bank account and a residence. When combined with these ties, a re-entry permit is a very effective tool for preserving a person's permanent residency.

John Manley is an immigration lawyer who practices in Los Angeles, California. You may contact him at 310-820-7553.

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