How to Voluntarily Abandon Lawful Permanent Residence (a Green Card)

No longer interested in holding a U.S. green card? Here's how to formally surrender it.

While most green card holders (lawful permanent residents, or "LPRs") are concerned about an involuntary abandonment of their LPR status, it also is possible to surrender LPR status voluntarily. This article will look into why a person might want to do this, and how it’s done.

Why Some Green Card Holders Decide to Give Up Their Status

For most green card holders, the biggest concern is involuntarily abandoning their residence, which can occur after an LPR has been outside the United States for more than a year and no longer has ties here. An immigration officer at the port of entry (airport or land border crossing) is typically the one who determines that the LPR has abandoned U.S. permanent residency. The officer may confiscate the green card and then leave it up to an immigration judge to make a final ruling.

By contrast, voluntary abandonment often arises from tax or travel reasons, and requires affirmative action by the LPR.

The tax reason that some people give up LPR status relates to the obligation to file a U.S. tax return, and in most cases pay taxes, as a U.S. resident. By surrendering the green card, it may be possible to terminate U.S. tax obligations. To be sure that this is a worthwhile strategy, the LPR would be wise to consult a qualified tax adviser, such as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or tax attorney.

The most common travel reason to surrender a green card is that the LPR has spent more than a year abroad and has no intention of resuming permanent residency in the United States but would like to visit the U.S. for holiday or business. Some people are confused about the actual meaning and benefit of a green card, and obtain one without realizing its significance, or the obligations that come with it.

A green card is for someone who makes the U.S. his or her permanent home or residence. It's not for someone who simply wants to visit the U.S. once or twice a year and take advantage of the shorter or faster line at the airport for citizens and LPRs. If a person’s primary and permanent residence is abroad, then a visitor visa, not a green card, is the appropriate means by which to enter the United States. After learning this, the person may realize that surrendering the green card makes more sense than trying to convince the U.S. border officers to let him or her in after every long absence.

Procedures for Giving Up U.S. Permanent Residence

The procedure to surrender a green card/LPR status is fairly straightforward. The LPR simply needs to contact the local U.S. embassy or consulate and make an appointment. The embassy or consular official will provide USCIS Form I-407, Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status.

The I-407 is a two-page document that requires basic biographical information, date and place of most recent departure from the United States, name of airline, ship, or other mode of transportation for final departure, address abroad, and reason for abandoning LPR status.

At the appointment, the officer will accept the form and the green card and give the LPR a stamped copy of the completed I-407.

If the local embassy or consulate does not offer appointments for surrendering a green card, it's also possible to complete the form and send it to the embassy or consulate with the original green card. In this situation, it's important to keep a copy of the correspondence, including both the completed I-407 and green card, for future reference.

If your purpose is to avoid U.S. taxation, also talk with a U.S. tax adviser about appropriate procedures to show the IRS that you are no longer a permanent resident. You will likely need to include a copy of your I-407 with your next U.S. tax return.

What Happens After Giving Up LPR Status

Once the LPR has completed and submitted the I-407 and surrendered the green card, this act is irrevocable – it cannot be undone. The result is that the former LPR now may need a visa to travel to the U.S. or may be able to travel without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program, which applies to citizens of certain countries. You will also, on future trips to the U.S., need to carry your stamped I-407 with you.

Surrendering the green card does not preclude someone from making another application for LPR status in the future. But the person would need to start over from square one. Some LPRs may have originally gone through a decade-long waiting period to get the green card. And their eligibility may have changed in the interim, for example if they obtained status as the unmarried child of a U.S. citizen, but have since grown up and married.

Therefore, completing Form I-407 and surrendering a green card is not something to be done hastily. Consulting with an immigration attorney and a tax adviser, if appropriate, is both a good idea and strongly recommended before making such an important decision with long-lasting consequences.

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