Just got your Green Card? Some tips from a Boston immigration lawyer.

On behalf of the lawyers in my Boston immigration office, I say congratulations! You just got your green card and are now a lawful permanent resident of the United States! Below are some general tips to avoid future immigration problems and continue on a smooth path towards citizenship.

I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residency–Get Ready! If you have a two-year green card (i.e., conditional residency based on marriage), remember that 90 days before the expiration of your green card, you and your spouse, together, will need to file a petition to remove the conditions on your permanent residency. This petition is called an I-751.  In order to get your I-751 petition approved, USCIS will expect you to submit extensive documentation to show that the underlying relationship between you and your spouse has been on-going since your I-485 was approved and that you continue to share your lives together.

Prepare for citizenship by recording your trips outside the U.S. If you travel outside the U.S. after you get your green card, write down the date that you left the U.S. and the date that you returned to the U.S for every trip you take after your I-485 is approved. You will need this information when you apply for citizenship. Some of my immigration clients mistakenly believe that their passport will contain stamps that will memorialize each of their trips abroad.  This is not necessarily true. These days, passports are machine-readable, and they often are scanned rather than stamped when you leave certain airports or when you cross the border via land to Canada. Thus, because your passport may not be stamped when you leave and enter the U.S., you cannot rely on it as an accurate record of your trips abroad. Keeping a record of your trips as you take them will save you time and effort when you apply for citizenship.

Don’t “abandon” your green card. As a permanent resident, you certainly are not legally required to remain within Massachusetts. In fact, one of the great benefits of being a green card holder is that you are free to travel within the U.S. and internationally. But, if you want to keep your green card, only temporary trips outside the United States are permitted. As a permanent resident, you could have future immigration problems if you travel outside the United States frequently or if the duration of your trips abroad are lengthy. From my experience working with immigration clients in Boston, the most effective way to lose your green card is to move abroad. Take a look
at your green card and you will see the words permanent resident card at the
top. Remember, the green card is not permanent but does require you to
reside permanently in the United States.You should avoid staying outside the U.S. for more than 6 months continuously. You should not remain outside the U.S. for an extended period of time without first consulting with an immigration lawyer in Boston.

If you have a green card, you must notify the Department of Homeland Security of any changes of address. As a green card holder, it is your responsibility to notify the Department of Homeland Security of any address changes. You can do this by filing Form AR-11. I recommend that you file Form AR-11 online through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS, formerly the INS) website. Once you have submitted Form AR-11, keep a copy of it for your records. If you have a green card and also have an immigration application that is pending with USCIS, you must also separately notify USCIS of any changes of address by calling its National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5283.  As an immigration lawyer, I handle change of address notification for all of my immigration clients and maintain records of each address change.

Register for Selective Service. If you are male, living in the U.S. as a permanent resident (i.e., green card holder) and between the ages of 18 and 25, you are probably required to register with Selective Service. Failure to do so could negatively impact your chances of gaining citizenship through naturalization. Contact the Selective Service System for more information.

Don’t commit crimes! (especially during the first five years after you become a permanent resident)  Of course, it’s generally a pretty bad idea to break the law.  But green card holders have no room for error.  Many people are shocked to discover the incredibly harsh immigration consequences of seemingly minor criminal offenses. Shoplifting, for instance, may be considered a relatively petty misdemeanor under Massachusetts law. But, if committed within the first five years of your status as a green card holder, a Massachusetts shoplifting conviction could result in your certain deportation from the United States without any chance for relief.

If you have ever appeared in a criminal court, do not travel outside the United States without first consulting with an immigration lawyer. I constantly meet with immigration clients in Boston who have criminal convictions and who mistakenly believe that one or all of their previous criminal cases were dismissed. Keep in mind that a Massachusetts district court judge may have told you that your criminal case was dismissed, and your criminal defense lawyer may have also told your that your criminal case will not show up on your record; but for immigration purposes, you may still have a criminal conviction!  Before you book your flight abroad, call me and set up an immigration consultation in my Boston office.

Again, congratulation on becoming a permanent resident. I hope these tips help guide you towards U.S. citizenship.