Congratulations! If you have a green card, you have successfully navigated the U.S. immigration legal system to arrive at one of the most sought after-destinations: lawful permanent residence in the United States.
Maybe a family member or your employer petitioned for you. Maybe you won your case in immigration court and stopped the government from deporting you. Maybe you fled your home country and came to the U.S. as a refugee. Perhaps your process took as short as one year or as long as a few decades. Regardless of how you got here, undoubtedly you have invested considerable expense and effort along the way. And you probably want to become a U.S. citizen eventually. That’s why it is worth knowing how to keep your green card.
What is a green card?
“Green card” is the unofficial name for the card that shows you are a lawful permanent resident (also known as an LPR).
What is lawful permanent residence?
Lawful permanent residence is a legal immigration status that allows you to stay and live in the U.S. for as long as you want. There is no expiration date when you have to leave the U.S.
Does lawful permanent residence expire?
Your lawful permanent residence never expires. It is permanent. However, you need your green card to prove that you are a lawful permanent resident, and most new green cards expire after ten years. Before your card expires, you need to apply to renew your green card. See the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services website for how to apply.
Can I work as a lawful permanent resident?
Yes. As a lawful permanent resident you do not need a separate work permit or employment authorization document to show you are legally allowed to work. Your green card is proof that you can legally accept employment.
Can I travel outside the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident?
Yes. Lawful permanent residents are allowed to travel abroad and then reenter the U.S. But be careful: too much time spent outside the U.S. is one way to lose your green card. If you will spend more than one year outside of the U.S., it is a good idea to apply for a reentry permit before you leave the U.S.
Many lawful permanent residents mistakenly believe that you can live abroad and then simply travel to the U.S. once a year to keep your green card. This is a myth. If you no longer intend to permanently reside in the U.S., the U.S. government can determine that you have abandoned your lawful permanent residence and refuse to let you reenter the U.S. Read more about travel.
Also be aware that trips that last 6 months or more can interrupt the five years of continuous residence required to become a U.S. citizen. It’s a good idea to keep track of the exact dates of all of your trips abroad.
Can I get a U.S. passport as a lawful permanent resident?
No. You must be a U.S. citizen to apply for and receive a U.S. passport. If you want to travel internationally, you will need to renew your passport from your home country through its embassy.
Can I vote as a lawful permanent resident?
No. You should not vote or register to vote until you are a U.S. citizen. Claiming to be a U.S. citizen when you are not has very serious consequences. It can prevent you from becoming a U.S. citizen in the future.
What happens if I get arrested or commit a crime?
Criminal convictions are one of the main ways you can lose your green card. Even seemingly minor crimes can make you deportable. For example, lawful permanent residents have been stripped of their green cards and deported for such things as shoplifting, possession of marijuana, domestic disputes, and others. Make sure you consult an immigration lawyer before confessing, taking a plea, or agreeing to any kind of punishment.
When can I become a U.S. citizen?
For most people, you must be a lawful permanent resident for five years before you can become a U.S. citizen. Because it takes a while to process your application, you can file your citizenship application when you have been a lawful permanent resident for four years and nine months.
If you became a lawful permanent resident because your spouse is a U.S. citizen and s/he petitioned for you, you only have to be a lawful permanent resident for three years before you can become a U.S. citizen. Because it takes a while to process your application, you can file your citizenship application when you have been a lawful permanent for two years and nine months.
Do I have to become a U.S. citizen?
No. It is a personal choice if you want to remain a lawful permanent resident indefinitely or apply to become a U.S. citizen. Many people choose to become a U.S. citizen so that they are protected from deportation, so that they can live abroad, so that they can vote in U.S. elections, so that they can take certain government jobs, or other reasons.