U.S. immigration law defines lawful admission for permanent residence 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 the status of a Lawful Permanent Resident, or “LPR”. An LPR is issued a Form I-551, Alien Resident Card, or “green card”, as evidence of his or her status.

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, to file Family-Based visa petitions for qualified relatives, and upon fulfilment of the requirements therefore, to apply for naturalization as a United States citizen.

An important aspect of LPR status is the fact that a lawful permanent resident remains a non-citizen of the United States (an “alien”), and as such, is subject to laws which can result in the loss of permanent resident status, either by abandonment, or as a result of deportation (now referred to as “removal”) or exclusion.

LPR status may be lost by voluntary abandonment, such as would be the case where 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 the great majority of cases, an lawful permanent resident returning to the United States after a short trip (not exceeding one year) need only show his or her alien registration receipt card (“green card,” I-551) for reentry. These LPR’s 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 the person actually had abandoned his or her U.S. residence.

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 on a series of trips. Whether or not the person can prove that his or her absence was “temporary” and gain readmission to the U.S. will depend upon the particular circumstances of the case. Elapsed time alone is not the sole factor. Rather, the intention of the person, when it can be determined will control. An immigration inspector, or an immigration judge in removal proceedings will look to the location of the person’s family ties, property holdings, and job in determining his or her intention. The judge will also consider the person’s purpose in departing from the United States, whether the visit abroad can be expected to terminate within a relatively short period of time, and whether the termination date can be fixed by some early event. Thus, a person who has been involuntarily detained abroad due to a lengthy court proceeding, or due to 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 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 is likely to be found to have abandoned LPR status.

A person who will be away from the U.S. for an extended period of time for a temporary purpose, is well advised to apply to the U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services for issuance of a “Permit to Re-Enter the United States” or “Re-entry Permit”. To obtain a Re-entry Permit, the applicant must explain the purpose and expected duration of his planned absence from the U.S. and establish that the absence will be temporary in nature. The Re-Entry Permit application must be filed while the LPR is in the U.S. and will be valid for up to two years. This document will greatly facilitate the LPR’s return to the United States.