5 Reasons Why a Green Card May Not Be Right For You

by Elizabeth Brettschneider


For many people, the Green Card is the ultimate symbol of accomplishment. After years of waiting through backlogs or dreaming of coming to America, the card is the proof of success. Holding the Green Card in their hands, they can breathe a sigh of relief that all their hard work paid off.

Because the Green Card is held in such high regard many clients understandably want to discuss how they can get one. But another equally important part of that conversation has to include the possible negative consequences of obtaining a Green Card. Despite the appeal of a Green Card, for some people it may not be the best choice.  

1.  Complying With the Residency Requirement

When someone has a Green Card, they are required to “maintain” it by spending enough time in the US to demonstrate their permanent ties to the country. If a person doesn’t intend to make their permanent residence in the US, then a Green Card may not be the right choice. All Green Card holders are subject to the basic residency requirements. Those determined to be in non-compliance can be charged with “abandonment” of their status. Although all the elements that the government may use to determine if someone has abandoned their permanent residence status are beyond the scope of this article, the simplest way to think about it is that Green Card holders must consider the US their permanent home. The number of days spent inside the US in any given year is the most important factor that determines residency but other things like filing taxes as a resident and maintaining ties such as a job and home are also factors that can be looked at in the determination of maintenance of residency.

Any trip of more than 180 days or extremely frequent travel (where a person spends very little cumulative time in the US) may cause US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) to find that a person has abandoned their residence and thus seek to take that person’s Green Card away. Thus, foreign nationals who don’t intend to spend much time in the US may not want to apply for a Green Card. It would be a shame for foreign nationals to go through the often lengthy and arduous Green Card process only to forfeit it shortly thereafter due to a move back to their home country!

It should be noted that if a person is planning on traveling out of the US for a long trip but wants to protect themselves from a determination that they have abandoned their Green Card, there is a permit that can be applied for which notifies USCIS that the Green Card holder does not intend to abandon their permanent residency despite extensive international travel.

Those thinking about obtaining a Green Card should always consult an attorney if they believe they will have extensive international travel to determine if this travel might be a reason not to pursue a Green Card.

2. Tax Responsibility

There are several reasons why taxes may deter foreign nationals from applying for a Green Card. Green Card holders must declare that they are a permanent resident of the US for immigration purposes when filing their tax returns or it can impact the determination that they are maintaining their permanent resident status (see item one above). It is important to note that if Green Card holders ever file their US taxes as a “non-resident” it may also impact their US citizenship application if they ever decide to pursue that benefit.

Green Card holders do not automatically get a special tax break just by acquiring that status. In fact, in some circumstances, Green Card holders may be required to pay more in taxes than nonimmigrant visa holders.

Another huge tax consequence to consider before getting a Green Card is double taxation. Even though Green Card holders are required to pay US taxes, certain countries may still require their citizens to pay taxes in their home country, resulting in the foreign national getting taxed twice. In some instances this may be avoidable; however, that is not always the case. For anyone who works not only in the US but in another country as well or someone who may have a foreign inheritance or is planning to sell foreign property and incur capital gains, this issue may be particularly concerning. Before beginning any Green Card process, foreign nationals should consult a US or international accountant or tax attorney for professional advice on what their worldwide tax responsibilities would be if they were to become a Green Card holder. The knowledge they obtain from this advice may very well provide valuable insight into whether a Green Card is right for them. 

3. Forfeiture of Benefits in the Foreign Nationals’ Home Country

Citizens of certain countries may lose specific benefits when they become US Green Card holders, or after they have lived in the US for a long period of time. One instance of this is Australian citizens’ right to vote—or rather their compulsory voting responsibility. If an Australian citizen does not intend to return to Australia within six years of registering as an overseas voter, they will lose their ability to vote in Australian elections.

Each country has their own laws in regards to their citizens’ status in another country. Therefore, it is crucial for foreign nationals to research their home country’s laws to ensure they will not lose any benefits they wish to retain.

4. Possible Loss of Support Staff

Some nonimmigrant visa types allow support staff to obtain their own nonimmigrant visas so they may accompany the principal visa holder in the US. For example, the O-1 may have support staff under O-2 status; or foreign nationals under nonimmigrant status may have a personal or domestic employee in B-1 classification. In these instances, the support staff’s status is dependent on the primary visa holder’s status. So if the primary visa holder allows their visa to expire, falls out of status, or changes their status, their support staff’s visas may become invalid.

For foreign nationals who are the primary visa holder with a support team attached to their visa, obtaining a Green Card can mean invalidating the status of the support team. This may deter a nonimmigrant visa holder who has had the same nanny for a decade, or discourage a director who holds an O-1 visa and has a team of a dozen support personnel attached to him from pursuing a Green Card. Therefore, before moving forward with the permanent residency process, it is crucial for foreign nationals with a support staff dependent upon their visa to consult an immigration attorney to evaluate the options for keeping their support staff in the US.

5. Complying with the Medical Exam Requirement

Terrified of needles? Queasy just thinking about having blood drawn? A legitimate phobia may deter some foreign nationals from pursuing a Green Card, as they do not want to subject themselves to the required medical exam needed to accompany the application. Other foreign nationals may have religious or moral objections to receiving vaccinations, preventing them from completing the required medical exam. There are very few circumstances that justify a waiver of the vaccinations, so foreign nationals should consult an attorney if the medical exam requirement is deterring them from pursuing a Green Card.

As we say many times (because it’s true!) it’s important for foreign nationals to consult an immigration attorney to determine their Green Card eligibility and to weigh the pros and cons of obtaining a Green Card. Each person is different and an immigration attorney can advise on the best course of action for that particular individual. We hope, however, this post will get foreign nationals thinking about what is best for their specific circumstance, and thereafter make an informed decision before deciding to pursue a Green Card.