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 or even accidental abandonment of their LPR status, it also is possible to surrender LPR status by choice, or voluntarily. This article will look into why a person might want to do this, and how it's done.

How Involuntary Abandonment of LPR Status Usually Happens

For most green card holders, the biggest concern is abandoning U.S. residence without wanting to, 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.

This is considered an "involuntary" abandonment, in that the person might, despite having spent many months abroad, have hoped or believed that returning to the U.S. was a possibility in the future. 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.

Or maybe the person had been planning to return to the U.S. earlier, but been detained by medical or other urgent issues (which can form the basis for arguing to the border officer or immigration judge that there was no intention to abandon residence).

People who know they need to spend a year or more outside the U.S. should apply to get a reentry permit before they leave.

Why Some Green Card Holders Decide to Voluntarily Give Up LPR Status

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 might 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 deliberately, and has no intention of resuming permanent residency in the United States, though he or she might like to visit the U.S. at times for holiday or business.

A green card is solely meant for someone who makes the U.S. a 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 in another country, then a visitor visa (B-2), not a green card, is the appropriate means by which to enter the United States. After learning this, the person might 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 fill out and mail USCIS Form I-407, Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status.

The I-407 is a three-page document that requires basic biographical information, date of most recent departure from the United States, and reason for abandoning LPR status. Along with the form, you will need to send in your green card, or provide a reason why you cannot (for example, that it has been lost or destroyed).

Make a copy of the completed I-407 and green card, for future reference. Then send the whole package to the address listed on the I-407 page of the USCIS website.

In rare cases, if you need immediate proof that you have abandoned LPR status, the local embassy or consulate might allow you come in person to surrender your green card and submit the form.

Assuming you've sent it by mail, expect a turnaround time for USCIS's response of at least two months. (You can check the latest processing times on the USCIS website.)

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 application with your next U.S. tax return.

What Happens After Giving Up LPR Status

Once an LPR has completed and submitted the I-407 and surrendered the green card, this act is irrevocable, meaning it cannot be undone. The result is that the former LPR now might need a visa to travel to the U.S., or might be able to travel without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program, which applies only to citizens of certain countries.

You will also, on future trips to the U.S., need to carry your USCIS response to your I-407 with you.

Surrendering the green card does not preclude you from making another application for LPR status in the future. But you would need to start over from square one. Some LPRs might have originally gone through a decade-long waiting period to get the green card. And their eligibility could 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 or permanent consequences.

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