Conditions to keep Green Card
US Immigration Question:
My husband and I have been legal permanent residents in the US for a few decades. However, we have to leave for Japan to take care of my aged parents. After they pass away, we would like to come back to the US, where our children stay. How can we keep our green cards while living in Japan for a while? I heard that as long as I come back once a year to the US, I may keep my green card.
Before I answer your question, let me correct one very big mistake in your question. Entry into the US once a year for one or several days will not allow you to keep your green card.
The key element in maintaining a green card is the intent of the alien to make the US his or her permanent home. The courts require the INS to show that the green card holder has abandoned his status by "clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence." Therefore, if an US Immigration officer attempts to take your green card away from you at the airport and you think you have not abandoned your intent to remain in the US permanently, insist that you see an US Immigration judge.
Based on the new US Immigration law signed by President Clinton on September
30, 1996, anybody who expects to remain outside of the United States
for a continuous period in excess of 180 days should apply for a "reentry
permit" Prior to their departure from the United States. If a green
card holder seeks admission into the US within the 2-year-period of
validity of the reentry permit there is a presumption that your permanent
residence has not been abandoned. Obtaining a second reentry permit
for an additional two
Based on the new law, green card holders who remain outside of the US for more than 180 days and seek admission are expected to undergo more questioning upon return if they do not have a reentry permit. The questioning will be about whether you abandoned your green card. Questions will focus on your purpose of departure, whether you continued to pay US taxes on your worldwide income as a resident even during your absence from the US, and other ties you have in the US (Ownership of a residence, bank accounts, unexpired driver's license, charge cards, and the location of close family members).
Green card holders who remain outside of the US for more than 1 year without a reentry permit must try to obtain at the US Embassy or Consulate in Japan. This is extremely risky.
A way to avoid this hassle is to apply for US citizenship.