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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Considerations For Green-Card Bearers

A provision in the new version of the United States Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act could affect non-citizens with "green cards" -- non-citizens who are lawful, permanent residents -- who are presently living outside the U.S. and seeking re-entry to the country. At a minimum, this provision should cause these residents to consider how long is too long to remain abroad, in addition to what steps may be taken to avoid losing permanent resident status through "abandonment."

Many holders of green cards believe that they need only to visit the U.S. once a year to maintain their status. In fact, the so-called "one-year rule" is nothing more than a regulation allowing the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS, to accept a green card for re-entry after an absence of less than one year. Some permanent residents have been excluded at the border by the INS on grounds of abandonment after trips lasting as little as four months.

If the INS inspector begins an investigation, regulations require the permanent resident to show that he or she left on a "temporary visit abroad." There is no fixed definition of a temporary visit abroad in U.S. immigration law, so the initial judgment is left to the INS inspector. But an aspect of the new law effective April 1, 1997, redefines the term "admission" so that a lawful permanent resident is not considered to be seeking an admission unless absent for over 180 days. What worries many immigration lawyers is that INS inspectors may use this 180-day rule to define the length of a "temporary visit abroad."

To avoid abandonment, a trip abroad should be: (1) for a definite purpose; (2) for a definite time (the shorter the better); and (3) undertaken with a clear intent to return to the United States to live and work. Permanent residents should maintain ties by continuing to file U.S. tax returns; retaining real and personal property in the U.S.; keeping bank accounts, credit cards and driver's licenses; and maintaining family ties, business and professional affiliations, and memberships in social groups.

It is also a good idea when planning a trip of more than six months to obtain a re-entry permit, which is good for two years and constitutes a determination that the holder intends to maintain his or her status. However, permanent residents who have been out of the U.S. for a substantial period of time should seek legal advice before applying for a re-entry permit. The application might not only be denied, but could also lead to an abandonment investigation.

Those who have put considerable effort into becoming permanent U.S. residents will no doubt want to take the steps necessary to prevent having that status removed.

Moscow-based attorney Sean Walgren specializes in U.S. immigration law.