This information is provided solely for informational purposes and is not legal advice. Transmission of these materials is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon the information contained in these FAQs without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney.
What is a lawful permanent resident?
A lawful permanent resident is someone who has been granted the right to live in the United States indefinitely. The permanent residence includes the right to work in the U.S. for most employers or for yourself. Permanent residents continue to hold citizenship of another country. Permanent residents are issued an “alien registration card,” known informally as a green card (because at one time the card was green in color). You may use your green card to prove employment eligibility and apply for a social security card.
Can I travel outside the U.S. as a permanent resident?
A permanent resident may travel outside the U.S. and must present a valid alien registration card when re-entering the U.S. In addition, a permanent resident should travel with an unexpired passport from another country. Each time you return to the U.S., you are subject to the same grounds of inadmissibility as when you were approved for permanent resident status (e.g., health-related concerns, certain criminal activity, terrorism, national security, public charge, willful misrepresentation, and false claims to U.S. citizenship).
Am I allowed to vote in U.S. elections?
No. Only citizens of the United States are permitted to vote in elections.
Can I lose my permanent residence?
Yes. If you commit certain crimes or other violations, you may be placed in removal proceedings and become subject to deportation.
Also, if you remain outside the U.S. for extended periods of time (typically more than 6 months at a time), the immigration authorities may scrutinize your situation to determine if you have abandoned your intention to make the U.S. your permanent home. Any absences of one year lead to the presumption that you have abandoned your permanent residence. It is extremely difficult to overcome that presumption.
If you know you will be outside the U.S. for an extended period of time, you may wish to apply for a re-entry permit prior to your departure. A reentry permit is typically issued with 2-year validity and does not guarantee that you will be granted entry to the U.S., but it can assist in establishing your intention to reside permanently in the U.S.
When do permanent residents become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship?
After a certain length of time – five years in most cases, three years for spouses of U.S. citizens – permanent residents may apply to become a U.S. citizen through a process called naturalization.
Additional requirements for naturalization include:
- Good moral character.
- Ability to read, write and speak English.
- Understanding of U.S. history and government.
- Continuous residence in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 5 years preceding the application for naturalization and physical presence in the U.S. for at least half that time.
- Residence in the state or USCIS district where the application is made for at least 3 months prior to the application.
What are some of the benefits of U.S. citizenship?
A U.S. citizen may apply for citizenship, issued by the U.S. State Department. Many countries allow visa-free travel for U.S. citizens. A U.S. citizen can leave and reenter the U.S. at any time without being subject to the grounds of inadmissibility. There are no restrictions on the amount of time you can remain outside the United States. U.S. citizens can vote in U.S. federal and local elections, hold certain government jobs, and serve on juries. Many federal and state government grants, scholarships, and benefits are available only to U.S. citizens.
U.S. citizens are eligible for a special security clearance required for some jobs, both with the U.S. government and other employers.
As a U.S. citizen, you can petition for certain relatives to immigrate to the U.S. Your spouse, unmarried children under age 21, and parents will be considered immediate relatives, and will not have to wait to receive permanent resident status (beyond the processing time of the petition and interview process). Your married children and children over age 21, as well as your brothers and sisters, are considered preference relatives and can be put on a waiting list to immigrate. The waiting period for siblings can be several years. U.S. citizens cannot be deported from the United States unless they committed fraud or made a misrepresentation to obtain their green card or citizenship.