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An applicant for US immigrant visa status (“green card”), who is residing in Canada or Mexico, may request a commuter green card so that he/she may travel from one of these countries to the United States on a daily or frequent basis for US employment.

The process for applying for a commuter green card is the same as applying for an employment-based green card through Consular Processing. Commuter green card status is administrative permission for the employee to live in Canada or Mexico and maintain a green card. This is a significant exception to the rule that all green card holders must reside in the United States. There are numerous limitations to a commuter green card holder, which include:

  • Not eligible to apply for US Citizenship until he/she converts the commuter green card to a resident non-commuter green card, and then waits for the appropriate time frame (3 or 5 years).
  • Must be extended every six months with a letter from any US employer.
  • Can be extended only if the individual continues to work in the United States and can prove that he/she has worked in the United States for at least 90 days during the last year.
  • Cannot sponsor family members for green card status unless he/she moves to the United States and then processes paperwork for the family. For family members who were in existence at the time he/she received the green card, this requires filing “following to join” paperwork. However, in order to sponsor a family member who was not in existence when the green card was secured (after-acquired spouse, step-child, or newly born child), this requires filing an I-130 Alien Relative petition for family members acquired after he/she received the green card, and the waiting times can be several years.
  • Cannot take international assignments without risking the loss of green card status.
  • May not be entitled to all of the same protections as a regular green cardholder. For example, commuter green card holders are not entitled to a formal hearing before an Immigration Judge to determine whether he/she is removable/inadmissible to the United States (i.e., commission of a serious crime).
  • The family of lawful permanent residents who decide to reside permanently in Canada or Mexico will lose their US status if they cannot meet the employment obligations of the commuter green card.
  • Cannot obtain commuter green card status based on marriage to a US citizen, or sponsorship by any other qualifying family member, who does not reside, or intend to reside, in the US, due to the affidavit of support requirements.

Clark Hill’s Immigration practice group co-authored one of the most complete articles on this topic in October 2012. Please contact our office if you would like to see a copy of the article.