The decision to pursue permanent residency (green card) in the United States should not be taken lightly. It is a time-consuming process that can be costly if your employer isn’t footing the bill.  Beyond time and money, there are other factors to consider before you apply. 

What is a green card?

As a green card holder (or permanent resident) you have the right to: live in the U.S. permanently, (as long as you do not commit any actions that would deem you removable), work in the U.S., and be protected by all the laws of the U.S. and the state in which you reside. Along with these rights also come responsibilities. You must obey the laws of the United States and the states, file income tax returns, support the democratic form of government and if you are a male aged eighteen to twenty-five, register with the Selective Service.

Today, there are four main ways to qualify for permanent residency:

  • If you are a family member of a United States Citizen or Permanent Resident;
  • Through your job;
  • The Visa Lottery that is run by the U.S. Department of State; or
  • For humanitarian reasons, such as if you are a refugee or an asylee

Do I need a green card?

If your intent is to make the United States your permanent home or live here for a period of time that extends beyond visa coverage, a green card may be the most suitable option. However, keep in mind that once you possess a green card, a decision to abandon this status should not be taken lightly, as it is irrevocable.  If you want to rescind your permanent resident status, certain forms must be filed and again, the timing of the filing may have serious consequences, including tax implications.  If you are a permanent resident at any time during a calendar year, you can be subject to income tax for that year.  Moreover, if you merely allow your green card to expire, you can still be subject to U.S. taxes until you officially rescind or abandon your green card status.  Depending on the circumstances of your case, you can also potentially be subject to exit tax liability as well as other United States tax consequences.

When should I apply?

Depending on the category that applies to you, the timing for filing your petition for a green card is key. For example, if you are a non-immigrant working in the United States on an H-1B Visa and you decide that you want to stay in the United States longer than the H-1B six-year period, you must make plans to file your permanent resident status petition at least one year before you reach the end of the six years.  You may qualify for an extension of the six year period based on your circumstances and whether there is a visa available for you.

If you are up for a significant promotion or a change in your job description during the pendency of a green card, the whole process may be jeopardized.  Accordingly, you may want to wait until you have been promoted to undergo the green card process.

If you are engaged and hoping to secure a green card for your fiancée, you may want to wait until you are married to initiate your green card process (if that is an option). It is not always possible to add a spouse to a pending green card application later. Regardless of what category you fall under, these examples illustrate the importance of being mindful of timing and other application issues when petitioning for your green card.

The rules and regulations governing these processes are complex and oftentimes difficult to understand.  Therefore, if you are thinking about applying for a green card, it is important to consult a seasoned legal professional who is knowledgeable and experienced with the complex immigration laws and tax rules.

*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

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