The US immigration process is not easy to navigate; we at New York International know this first-hand. Even when you’ve “made it” through and have your green card in your hands (congratulations!), there are still a few things that might sneak up on you. We talked to a couple immigration lawyers to get the low down on the most common surprises or misunderstandings about green cards.
HAVING A GREEN CARD MEANS FILING US TAXES
Even if your income is still primarily from your home country, or if you have gone through the correct channels to remain outside the country for an entire tax year while still holding your green card, you will be required to report—and usually pay tax on—on your whole income (US and abroad) to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This comes as a surprise to many, but the IRS’s reach is long—extending even to US citizens whose permanent address is abroad, as evidenced by London Mayor (and dual citizen) Boris Johnson’s disagreement with the IRS at being required to pay US taxes. Depending on the amount you earn, it may be the case that you will not need to pay tax on any foreign earned income you have, but you will still need to report it. Be sure to take this into account and consult with a tax professional about the details of what you must report and what you must pay tax on.
GREEN CARD ≠ CITIZENSHIP
Getting a green card, while a pathway to citizenship, is not the same as citizenship—nor is citizenship an eventual requirement. You can continue to renew your green card indefinitely. Once you get a green card, you are still a citizen of your home country and you maintain your foreign passport.
Some key differences between green cards and citizenship: green card holders are not eligible to vote in elections, do not get a US passport, and can still be deported for certain crimes. Immigration lawyer, Samuel Newbold said that green card holders are often surprised that they can end up in deportation proceedings for seemingly minor crimes. “A large proportion of people in deportation proceedings are green card holders. Deportation isn’t just for illegal immigrants and/or visa violators. A US permanent resident of thirty years could be placed in deportation proceedings for any offense which can be interpreted by DHS/ICE as a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude.”
THE CARD CAN EXPIRE. YOUR STATUS WON’T.
Green cards are also known as permanent resident cards as they are certifying a person’s permanent residence in the US. However, the word “permanent” paired with the expiration date on the card can mislead some card holders. Green cards expire and must be renewed, but, says lawyer BoBi Ahn, “It is only the card that expires—a security measure put in place by the USCIS so that they can upgrade the card with the newest technologies to deter forgeries. But even if the card expires, the permanent resident status is intact.” Do be careful though, if your card expires while you are abroad, you may have difficulty re-entering the US.
YOU MUST CONTINUE TO RESIDE IN THE US—BUT YOU CAN BE GONE FOR A WHILE
So you’ve moved to the US and gotten your green card. You can now switch jobs, start a business, move to another state, and travel in and out of the country, but … you can’t live outside the US while maintaining your US permanent resident status. Many green card holders have extended family or business outside of the US, so the need to travel, even remaining outside the US for long periods of time, is often necessary.
Don’t worry. “There are options to travel and live abroad at lengths as long as [green card holders] maintain residence in the US,” says Ahn. While green card holders must avoid absences abroad that aggregate to six months out of the year, there are also other options. “There are exceptions to the physical presence rules for Green Card holders, but he/she must request a reentry permit from USCIS and otherwise maintain their ties to the US while abroad,” says Samuel Newbold.
YOU CAN GET A GREEN CARD BY BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR
Currently, up to 10,000 US visas can be issued each year to international entrepreneurs who invest a certain amount in a new US business or an existing US business that meets certain criteria. This EB-5 visa allows the holder to apply for a green card as soon as he or she is approved for the program. Spouses and immediate family are also eligible. For more about the EB-5 visa read our article comparing it with other entrepreneur visas.
The information in this article is not intended to constitute legal or tax advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with appropriate legal advisers. For more information on green cards, please visit the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website. If you have legal questions about your green card, please consult an immigration lawyer.