After many months or even years of waiting, your client has finally received their green card. So, what are the next steps and how should you advise them? One of our attorneys, Oleg Gherasimov, has just the right steps to help new immigration attorneys guide their clients.

Congratulations, your client is now a U.S. permanent resident! Besides being excited about their status as a permanent resident, you are probably also wondering what is next in your client’s immigration journey. Below are some helpful tips, including how to help maintain your client’s permanent resident status, and how to prepare them for becoming a U.S. citizen. Here’s how to approach the situation with your client:

The Important Steps to Take After Receiving a Green Card

Calendar Important Dates

Conditional permanent residents receive their green cards for a period of two years, and they need to file a separate petition to remove the conditions during the 90 days before their green card expires. They may file to remove the conditions even if they are separated or their marriage has ended.

If your client plans on applying for naturalization, they generally can file as early as 90 days before being a permanent resident for five years (or three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen).

Unless your client becomes a U.S. citizen before their green card expires, they should apply for a new card within six months before it is set to expire.

Change of Address

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) requires notification of any change of address within 10 days of that change. Form AR-11 is used for that purpose. You can learn more about a change of address requirements at “How to Change Your Address?”

Selective Service Registration

Selective Service registration goes to a person’s good moral character, which is a key requirement for naturalization. All male U.S. permanent residents between the ages of 18 to 26 must register with the Selective Service. While failure to have registered when required is not an automatic bar to naturalization, it is an issue that requires looking into before filing for naturalization. Selective Service Registration may be done online.

They’re not a U.S. citizen (yet)!

It is very important to understand that your client is not yet a U.S. citizen. Lawful permanent residents have many of the same rights as citizens, but the two are not the same.

One of the most important limitations is that permanent residents cannot vote, or register to vote, in federal elections. Voting in federal elections is a serious crime and will permanently prevent your client from becoming a U.S. citizen.

Maintaining a Permanent Residence in the U.S.

To avoid forfeiting a permanent resident card, your client must reside permanently in the United States. If they don’t maintain their residence by living in the U.S., they may be deemed to have abandoned their permanent residence.

If they plan on being outside the U.S. for twelve months or more, they may apply for a re-entry permit before departing in order to preserve the permanent residence status despite a prolonged absence. Even with a re-entry permit application, remaining outside of the U.S. for more than two years — after its issuance without first obtaining a returning resident visa — is not a viable or legal option.

Also, be aware that absences from the U.S. for six months or longer could delay when your client may apply for citizenship through naturalization or lead to a denial of their naturalization case.

Preparing for the Naturalization Application

Although eligibility for naturalization may not be available for a while, there are several steps your client can take now to start preparing for the process.

When applying for naturalization, your client will need to provide your travel history for the qualifying period, including the dates when departed and returned to the U.S. and the countries visited on each trip. Remembering this information can be challenging, especially for businesspeople and those who travel frequently. Tell your client that they should keep a log and update it each time they travel so that you don’t have to dig for the information when it is time to apply for naturalization.

Sometimes even minor brushes with the law can impact eligibility for naturalization. For instance, even though marijuana use is legal in several states, it is still against U.S. Federal laws. Marijuana use and other violations of the U.S. drug laws can impact eligibility to become a U.S. citizen, even in states that have a more relaxed view toward recreational drug use.

Petitioning for Relatives

Once your client has been approved for permanent residence, they may file a petition for a spouse or child under the age of 21. There is a substantial waiting period under this category. They may also file for an unmarried child who is over the age of 21, but the waiting period is even longer.

When your client becomes a U.S. citizen, the waiting period for a spouse or unmarried children is virtually eliminated. In addition, they may file a petition for a parent, a married child, and even for a brother or sister. There is no waiting period for a parent, but the waiting period for a married child and brother or sister is much longer.

At SG Legal, we help clients choose the right category so that their relative(s) may join them as soon as possible. We do not stop until the long and arduous process is complete and the families are reunited. Should a relative desire to come to the United States more quickly, we advise what other paths may be available to them. The tips above are helpful tips for immigration lawyers to assist clients to maintain their permanent resident status and be better prepared to apply for naturalization.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive list of eligibility requirements and should not be construed as legal advice.

If you or your clients have any specific questions about the maintenance of green card statuses or citizenship eligibility, please contact the immigration attorneys at SG Legal Group, LLC at 410-618-1288 or email us at [email protected].