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Immigration & Naturalization Law

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What Are the Benefits of Being a Permanent Resident?

Permanent residency is a unique immigration status. Under federal law, immigrants who are in the United States as lawful permanent residents (LPRs), or green card holders, enjoy many of the same benefits and freedoms as U.S. citizens.

Permanent residents are also protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that they have the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • National origin

It also provides the right to be free from discrimination in these settings:

  • Employment
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Housing
  • A variety of other specific settings

Permanent Resident Benefits

As a permanent resident, green card benefits include the right to:

  • Be protected by all laws of the United States, your state of residence, and local jurisdiction
  • Live permanently anywhere in the United States, as long as you do not take any action that could make you deportable under immigration law
  • Work legally in the United States in any job that suits your qualifications (some jobs are limited to U.S. citizens for security reasons)
  • Apply to become a U.S. citizen once you qualify
  • Apply for a permanent residence for your spouse and any unmarried children under 21 years of age
  • Get public benefits like Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare, if you qualify, to help cover the cost of food, child care, and medical care
  • SNAP benefits (food stamps), unemployment benefits, temporary assistance, CHIP assistance, and other benefit programs
  • Own property in the United States
  • Apply for a driver’s license in your state or territory
  • Depart and return to the U.S. under certain conditions
  • Attend public schools and universities
  • Join certain branches of the United States Armed Forces
  • Buying or owning a firearm, as long as there are no state or local laws that say you can’t
  • Vote in local (but not federal) elections where U.S. citizenship is not required
    • Some cities allow American residents of the city the right to vote in school board elections if the voter is the parent, legal guardian, or caretaker of minor children in the school system of the city
    • Currently, 11 local governments allow permanent residents to vote in local elections: San Francisco and the Maryland communities of Takoma Park, Barnesville, Martin’s Additions, Somerset, Chevy Chase Sections 3 and 5, Glen Echo, Garrett Park, Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, and Riverdale Park

A permanent resident must be careful with some of these rights. Immigration authorities can take these rights away for:

  • A firearm-related conviction
  • Voting in a federal government election
  • Leaving the United States under certain circumstances
  • Other actions

You could face ineligibility for citizenship and, in some cases, even result in revocation of your permanent resident status and deportation.

Permanent Resident Responsibilities

Lawful residents are also required to follow most of the rules and regulations that apply to citizens. This includes:

  • Filing federal income tax returns for U.S. residents, if required
  • Obeying all federal, state, and local laws
  • Registering with the Selective Service, if required
  • Maintaining your immigration status
  • Carrying proof of lawful status
  • Updating your new address to DHS if you move

Permanent Residents: Conditions to Depart and Return to the U.S.

As an LPR, you may not be able to leave the U.S. for an extended period or move to another country to live there permanently. Those who wish to remain abroad for six months or more must submit the appropriate documents to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stating that they do not intend to abandon their permanent resident status. You should also avoid traveling outside of the United States for a period of time if your residency is about to expire.

Qualifying for Lawful Permanent Residency

LPR adults have the right to live and work in the U.S. and can travel in and out of the country, under certain limitations. There are several ways to qualify for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. Categories of immigration eligibility for an LPR include:

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the population of LPRs in 2019 was about 13.6 million. Of the LPRs potentially eligible to become naturalized citizens, the largest percentage of people come from Mexico, China, the Philippines, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, India, and Canada.

Permanent Residency for Spouses, Children, and Relatives

Most LPRs are admitted for the purpose of family reunification. Immediate relatives are categorized based on their connection to the sponsoring relative, in order of priority, which is:

  • Unmarried children of U.S. citizen parents and their children
  • Spouses, children, and unmarried children of permanent residents
  • Married children of citizens and their spouses and children
  • Brothers and sisters of citizens and their spouses and children

However, sponsorship and approval for immigration depend on the individual’s country of origin and preference category. There are quotas for foreign nationals based on the home country and family preference, which can delay eligibility for years for relatives from some countries. The countries most affected by nationality quota waiting periods are:

  • India
  • China
  • Mexico
  • The Philippines

If you have questions about LPR applications and the timeline for getting the benefits of being a permanent resident, talk to an immigration attorney for legal advice.