Receiving a U.S. green card is a major accomplishment, but it’s not the end of the journey.

Green card holders have certain responsibilities to ensure that they don’t lose their permanent resident status and to make sure they have a smooth road ahead to becoming a U.S. citizen. They must be aware of the dos and don’ts of holding a U.S. green card.

General Limitations of a U.S. Green Card

One thing that all green card holders must know and keep in mind is that being a lawful permanent resident is not the same thing as being a U.S. citizen. Green cards come with certain limitations.

For one, permanent residents don’t have the right to vote in the United States. They also don’t carry a U.S. passport. Instead, they keep their country’s passports and use their green card to reenter the U.S.

Because a green card does not equate to U.S. citizenship, holders should never tell anyone that they are U.S. citizens. This mistake can come with repercussions that may cause them to lose their green cards.

Traveling with a U.S. Green Card

Traveling in and out of the United States can be tricky business for green card holders. While they are able to leave and reenter the U.S., they do not have the liberty to travel whenever they please and stay outside of the U.S. for as long as they like.

A green card holder has permanent residency, meaning that they should be residing in the U.S. permanently and be in the country for more than half the time every year. If they take trips outside the U.S., they should make sure they’re away for less than 6 months.

Reentry Permit

There are some cases when a U.S. green card holder may need to leave the U.S. for more than 6 months, such as when they get a job abroad or have matters to attend to that will keep them outside the U.S. for a couple of years.

In these scenarios, they can apply for a special document called a reentry permit. This tells USCIS and Customs and Border Protection that the lawful permanent resident has no intention of abandoning their green card.

Despite having a reentry permit, however, a green card holder must still maintain strong ties to the United States to secure their permanent resident status.

Citizenship Eligibility

A person who receives a U.S. green card will be eligible to become a U.S. citizen normally five years after they have gained permanent residency. When they apply for citizenship, the immigration service is going to review their application from when they received their green card, including the I-140 and I-130 petitions.

They’re also going to assess whether or not the green card holder spent most of their time in the U.S., looking for trips that lasted longer than 6 months. They’re going to look at good moral character and the time they spent in the U.S. All of these count towards their citizenship application in many different ways.

There is an exception to the 5-year timeline. In the case of marriage-based green card holders, they can apply for naturalization after 3 years, provided that they have continuous residency and meet the eligibility requirements.

A Final Word

Receiving a green card is not the final step that guarantees full, unbridled rights in the U.S. Holders must make sure they’re doing everything right so they keep their permanent resident status and are able to transition to U.S. citizenship in the future.

A couple of the most important things to take away:

  • Be physically present in the United States for half the time every year.
  • Do not claim to be a U.S. citizen as citizenship is different from lawful permanent residency.
  • Get ready to apply for citizenship in the near future.