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I got my greencard – now what?

Congratulations! You’ve been through the long process, and now you finally have your greencard. You’re a lawful permanent resident… but now what? This post describes some important information you need to understand about your new legal status.

Conditional residence. (2-year card).

Look at your greencard. Is it valid for two years or for ten? If the answer is two then it means you are a “conditional resident.” Conditional have all the rights of other lawful permanent residents, with one very important exception. Conditional residents are required to file an I-751 petition in order to maintain their resident status. This petition needs to be filed in the 90 days before the expiration of your greencard.

Filing the I-751 petition is extremely important. If you don’t file it within the required time then you are considered deportable. So right now, go mark your calendar, set an email reminder – do whatever you need to remember this deadline! The immigration service is supposed to send you a notification when it’s time to file the I-751 but that doesn’t always happen. You can find some tips on preparing in advance for the I-751 here.

Social security card.

Now that you are a resident you may apply for an unrestricted Social Security card. To get the application process started, visit the Social Security Agency’s website or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You may already have applied for a restricted Social Security card at the time you received your temporary work authorization. If so, you should now contact the Social Security Agency to apply for an unrestricted card. This process is easy, and simply involves demonstrating that you are now a greencard holder.

Change of address requirement.

As a lawful permanent resident you are required to file an address change notification within 10 days of moving to a new address. This is a very important obligation, but it is easy to file the required form. To submit an address change notification you may file an AR-11 paper form, or else simply file the notification online here.

It is important to know that your I-864 sponsor has a separate obligation to file a different address change notification. The I-864 sponsor is your visa petitioner, though you may also have had an additional “co-sponsor” if your petitioner did not meet the income requirement. If the sponsor moves, she is required to file a Form I-865 notification, available here.

You are not a citizen (yet)!

It is very important to understand that you are not yet a U.S. citizen. Lawful permanent residents have many of the same rights as citizens, but the two are not the same. Important limitations of resident status include:

  • You cannot vote, or register to vote, in federal elections. Voting in federal elections is a serious crime and will permanently prevent you from becoming a citizen. You may be allowed to vote in local elections depending on the law in your city, but be extremely careful to check.
  • You can lose your resident status, as described below.

Traveling as a greencard holder.

As a greencard holder you are allowed leave the United States without losing your status. When you travel, you need to bring your passport and your I-551 Alien Registration card (green card). The length and the purpose of your travel is very important to consider.

Length of trip. If you are traveling for longer than 6 month you need to apply for a re-entry permit. That permit may be valid for up to two years. If you travel without securing this permit then you may lose your residency and not be allowed back into the U.S.

Purpose of trip. As a greencard holder, you have announced your intention to live in the United States. You can be found to have abandoned your residency if the government determines that you took actions that indicate your intention to live elsewhere. Factors that may be considered include:

  • The amount of time you spent in the United States.
  • Where you are currently working.
  • Whether your trips abroad are temporary in purpose.
  • Your ties are to the United States.
  • Whether you have a home in the United States.
  • Whether you have been paying your U.S. taxes.

If you plan to be out of the U.S. for longer than 6 months it would be a very good idea to consult with an attorney before you leave.

Pay your taxes!

Greencard holders are required to file U.S. federal income tax returns. They are required to report income: both earned in the U.S. and income earned in other countries. Foreign income is subject to certain credits. Failing to file income tax returns can be a crime, and can also prevent you from becoming a U.S. citizen. You may also be responsible for state income tax depending on your state of residence.

Prepare for citizenship now.

If you plan to apply for U.S. citizenship you can take some simple steps to make the process much easier when it’s time. To learn more about the requirements for citizenship, read our free guide, available on our citizenship page.

Here are some basic points to keep in mind:

  • Waiting period. Most greencard holders need to wait five years before applying for U.S. citizenship. For those who obtained their greencard through marriage the waiting period is generally three years. The N-400 may be filed in the 90-day window just before the end of the waiting period.
  • Physical presence requirement. At the time you file your N-400 application, you are required to fulfill a physical presence requirements. For most folks you obtained their greencard through marriage, they are required to have been in the U.S. 18 of the previous 36 months. For other applicants it is 30 of the past 60 months.
  • Residence requirement. Although this is confusing, for purposes of a naturalization application “residence” is different than “physical presence.” To be eligible for naturalization you must not have interrupted your status as resident of the U.S. The rule is that a departure of less than six months does not break residence. A departure of more than six months but less than one year generally does break residence.

Crimes leading to deportation.

Greencard holders – unlike U.S. citizens – are subject to deportation if they commit certain crimes. Deportation can result even if the person is not convicted of the crime. It is extremely important that greencard holders not engage in criminal conduct.

Crimes that can cause a greencard holder to be deported include:

  • Felonies.
  • Drug crimes.
  • Multiple crimes involving immoral behavior.
  • Helping illegal immigration.

Petitioning for family members.

Greencard holders have the legal ability to petition for certain family members. A greencard holder may petition for her husband/wife and unmarried child. The waiting periods for petitions filed by greencard holders can be quite long. If you later become a citizen, however, the waiting periods for your spouse or child become shorter, and you may also petition for your parent, brother/sister or your married child.

Photo Credit: Thurkul

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Greg is recognized as the leading national authority on enforcement of the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. Greg represents low-income green card holders in lawsuits to recover support from their sponsors. Practicing family-based immigration law, Greg also focuses on helping married and engaged couples with U.S. immigration.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Hi, I become a legal permanent in July 2018. I am from Brazil, I went to the USA and stayed for 40 days and came back to Brazil. I am trying to sell my house and othres things to move to the USA permanent. I will go back in 5 and a half months, and I planed to stay only 15 days. Will this short stay cause me any trouble? I have to sell my things. I can not move now.

  2. Hi, just looking for some clarity… My husband has gotten his 10 Green Card. is he now allowed to vote? what I have read on this site so far says, if you have the 2-year card, you are not allowed.. but what about if you have the 10? is there a difference?

    1. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

      Please don’t vote. You need to be a citizen to vote in federal elections. There are sometimes exceptions on the local level but **please** check with a local offical to learn more. But you absolutely cannot vote federally before becoming a citizen – doing so has dire consequences.

  3. Hello,
    I petitioned my father to come to the US. He’s now a green card holder and has been here for 1yr. He’s moved around and we live in a diff state. First few months he lived with me, then he moved out of state from me. He changed his address from the uscis website, then after a couple of months, he moved again. Renting a room and I’ve told him many times to change his address from the uscis website whenever he moves within 10days. He hasn’t done so and it’s been months already. HE said he occasionally sleeps at his cousins house and all of his mails still go there. I told him, it does not matter, you do not live there. I told him he could get in trouble. He’s not listening.

    Could he get in trouble? He’s planning on moving out again and rent with someone elses.

    1. Yes – he could get in trouble. Residents must update their address via Form AR-11 within ten days of a move. It’s up to him to figure out his primary place of residence.

  4. Good Morning,
    I just need a little bit of clarification. My temporary card was to expired 03/11/2016, but I received an extension of one year after submitting documents (February 1, 2016) to remove conditions on my green card. Well, I just recently received my permanent resident card (10 years). I would have been married to a US Citizen for 4 years on April 1st. However, I have only been a green card holder (including temporary green card) since 03/11/2014. Am I eligible to apply for citizenship?
    Thanks for your help.

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