Immigrants who hold a Green Card must live in the United States to maintain their permanent residency status. Permanent residents are free to travel internationally on short-term trips, but they cannot abandon their ties to the United States. Those who are deemed to have abandoned their United States residence are assumed to have abandoned their lawful permanent residency status and may see their Green Card revoked.
However, to promote greater business ties between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, US immigration law grants an exception to qualifying residents of Canada and Mexico who commute to the United States for work. Individuals granted special “commuter status” are allowed to live in Canada or Mexico while working in the United States without abandoning their lawful permanent residency status.
How to Identify Commuter Status on a Green Card
Permanent residents with commuter status carry a standard Green Card just like every other lawful permanent resident in the United States. The only difference is that a permanent resident with commuter status will display a unique code on their Green Card.
Where a standard Green Card displays the code C1, a permanent resident with commuter status will display C2. You can find this unique code on the back of the new Green Cards. On traditional Green Cards, the C2 code should be displayed on the front of the card.
Two Types of Commuter Status
There are two types of travelers that qualify for special commuter status—those who travel regularly to the United States, and those who perform seasonal work for extended periods of time (sometimes called seasonal workers). Both types of commuters will display the C2 status on their Green Card, though the qualifications for each are a little different.
For standard commuters, the permanent resident must travel to the United States at least twice a week. For seasonal commuters, the permanent resident typically spends less than 6 months per year in the United States. Note that if a seasonal commuter spends more than 6 months per year in the United States, they do not need special commuter status as this is sufficient to prove their ties to the United States.
Qualifying for Commuter Status
In order to qualify for commuter status under 8 CFR §211.5, a permanent resident must report to a US Port of Entry every six months to complete Form I-178. He or she must also present proof of residence in Mexico or Canada, and proof of continuous employment in the United States (usually in the form of a letter from their employer). To extend their commuter status, the permanent resident must prove that they worked in the United States for at least 90 days during the previous year.
Limited Immigration Rights for Permanent Residents with Commuter Status
While the special commuter status allows an immigrant the opportunity to retain their permanent residency status without maintaining a permanent residence in the United States, it does come with a few drawbacks. Generally speaking, a permanent resident in commuter status:
- Cannot apply for US citizenship until he or she converts to standard lawful permanent resident status and fulfills the US residency requirement (3 – 5 years)
- Cannot sponsor family members for permanent residency until he or she moves to the United States (this process can take several years for new spouses and step children)
- Cannot take international assignments outside of Canada and Mexico without risking their permanent residency status
- May not be entitled to all of the same protections afforded to a standard permanent resident (e.g. there is no right to a formal hearing before an immigration judge for removal proceedings or inadmissibility)
How to Obtain a Commuter Status Green Card
Residents of Mexico and Canada who wish to attain commuter status may apply for a Green Card through the nearest US Embassy or consulate. The process, sometimes referred to as “consular processing,” involves the following steps:
- File the appropriate immigrant petition – for family-based petitions, the qualifying family member will need to complete and sign Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. For employment-based petitions, the sponsoring employer must submit Form I-140, Petition for Alien Worker. An entrepreneur who intends to invest significant capital into business ventures in the United States may self-petition with Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur. Immigrants who qualify for permanent residency under special conditions may file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow, and Special Immigrant.
- Wait for a decision from USCIS – if your petition is approved, USCIS will forward the petition to the US State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC). If your petition is denied, USCIS will issue a notice that includes the reasons for denial and your right to appeal the decision.
- Wait for an available visa number – the NVC will notify you when they receive your approved petition. When a visa number becomes available, the NVC will notify you and request any necessary processing fees and supporting documents.
- Complete a consular interview – once all of your paperwork is in order and the fees are paid, the NVC will schedule a visa interview for you at the nearest US Embassy or consulate. At the interview, the consular officer will then determine your eligibility and process your case.
- Receive your visa packet – after successfully completing your visa interview, the consular officer will provide you with your visa packet. Do not open this packet, as you’ll need to deliver the sealed packet to US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) at a US Port of Entry when you travel to the United States
- Receive your Green Card – after you pay the applicable USCIS fees and are inspected and admitted into the United States by CBP, you should receive your Green Card within 45 days.
How to Adjust Status from Commuter Status to Standard Permanent Residency
When an immigrant with commuter status moves to the United States and establishes a permanent residence there, he or she may file Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card. In Part 2 of the application, simply select “I am a commuter who is taking up actual residence in the United States” as the application type. The standard processing time for this petition is 6 – 12 months.
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