We have been hearing disturbing reports (e.g. here) of US Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) being coerced into relinquishing their green cards by immigration officials. Please do not feel compelled to sign away your rights. We understand that it is a very stressful time for many immigrants now, and that immigration officers can be intimidating and even frightening. However, you have the right to refuse to sign the I-407 (Record of Abandonment of LPR status) and refusing to sign the form should have no negative consequences.
Can I "lose" my permanent residence status by being outside the US for 6 months?
A person does not automatically lose their permanent resident status just because they have been outside the US for a particular length of time. Immigration regulations do state that if an LPR is outside the US for one continuous year, there is a presumption that permanent residence has been abandoned. However, DHS (Department of Homeland Security) can decide that a person has abandoned their permanent residence after they have been gone for less than a year. The key is whether the person intended the stay abroad to be temporary, not the length of time outside the US.
Evidence of intending not to reside permanently in the US include spending long periods outside the US without maintaining a US residence, declaring yourself to be a "nonimmigrant" on US tax returns, or, in more extreme cases, never living in the US to begin with.
If you want to live outside the US for 6 months or more, it is critical that you can show your intention to return to the US. This intent can be shown by as many of the following as possible:
1. Continuing to file US tax returns;
2. Keeping a house or other residence here;
3. Putting furniture and other belongings in storage rather than selling them;
4. Having some immediate family members staying in the US;
5. Definite plans to return to a job or studies in the US;
6. Maintaining memberships in clubs, church groups, etc. in the US.
What if I need to stay abroad for over a year?
Immigration regulations require invalidation of your green card if you have been outside the US for over a year. We recommend getting a reentry permit if you will be on an extended stay outside the US of a year, maybe even less in the current political climate. A reentry permit allows a permanent resident or conditional resident to apply for admission to the US upon returning from abroad during the permit’s validity, without having to obtain a returning resident visa (see below) from the U.S. Embassy or consulate. A reentry permit does not guarantee admission into the United States. Aliens with reentry permits are still subject to inspection at the port of entry and may be denied admission if they are inadmissible.
Reentry permits are generally valid for 2 years from the date the reentry permit was issued. A 2nd reentry permit might be approved for another 2 years, and thereafter they are approved for one year at a time. You should apply for this benefit before leaving the United States. Ideally, you will file at least a few months before you leave, to allow time for the biometrics appointment to be scheduled before you travel.
What if I didn't get a re-entry permit and have been abroad a long time?
An LPR who has remained outside the US for over a year without a re-entry permit, or whose re-entry permit has expired, needs to apply for a Returning Resident Visas (SB-1) at their nearest consulate. To qualify for returning resident status, you will need to prove that you:
Can they force me to sign an I-407?
A person who has not signed an I-407 (or otherwise relinquished permanent residence, see Yakou) remains an LPR until an immigration judge decides that they have lost the LPR status. If you are asked to sign an I-407 and refuse, you should be issued with a Notice to Appear (NTA) before an immigration judge who will decide the matter. Your immigration lawyer needs to show that it is more likely than not that you intended to stay an LPR.
If you have been outside the US for a long time and are questioned by immigration about your LPR intention, please describe your ongoing ties to the US. These could be work, family, owning a house, etc. You should be able to explain why you were outside the US for a long time, e.g. you were transferred abroad by your company or you were caring for a sick relative. I volunteered at DFW airport a few days ago, and an elderly Sudanese woman was questioned about her LPR intentions. She had fallen ill while visiting Sudan, so she had to stay longer than she intended. She was eventually admitted as an LPR, but the delay was worrying.
If your green card is confiscated, you must be provided with alternative evidence of your LPR status, such as an I-94 and/or passport stamp that says "Evidence of Temporary Residence."
Please contact Elaine Martin, immigration lawyer, if you have any questions.
Elaine Martin has been practising US and global immigration law since 1997. She is an immigrant herself (from Ireland), so has a special understanding of the legal and emotional challenges involved in relocating to a new country.