Abandonment of LPR (Green Card) Status (Part II)

In Part I, we touched upon principles and concerns surrounding the issue of abandonment as it generally relates to travel abroad and maintaining Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) or “Green Card” status.

Here, in Part II, we will briefly examine an unpublished Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision in Saleh Mohammed Otaifah, A055 775 988 (BIA Jan. 26, 2015) as an example of how some of the principles discussed in Part I were applied by an Immigration Judge (IJ) and by the BIA to an interesting set of facts.

Under the facts of the decision, the LPR, Otaifah, is a native citizen of Yemen. Otaifah married and came to the U.S. based on derivative status to his wife – a child of a U.S. citizen.

Otaifah, unable to initially find work in the U.S., returned to Yemen, then came back to the U.S. where he found work for a period of time. However, Otaifah quit his U.S. job and returned to Yemen in July 2003. It was during this last trip to Yemen that Otaifah was arrested and jailed in 2004. 

Otaifah was subsequently acquitted of the charges in Yemen and released from jail. Sometime after his release, Otaifah returned to the U.S. in December 2010. Removal proceedings were thus initiated based on Otaifah’s extended absence (July 2003 – December 2010) from the United States.

At issue before the IJ during the removal hearing was whether Otaifah “intended to abandon his status or … his intent to actually reside in the United States” by virtue of his time abroad in Yemen viewed in light of other evidence regarding Otaifah’s comparative ties to the U.S. and Yemen. The IJ noted since Otaifah was in Yemen for over a year; “The Government is aided by the statutory presumption of abandonment of status by departure for more than one year.”

The IJ found Otaifah was arrested in 2004 and was freed from incarceration around September 2007. The IJ recognized the arrest and jailing for the period between 2004 and 2007 as an unforeseen event excusing Otaifah’s absence for this portion of his last stay in Yemen.

During the removal proceeding, Otaifah testified when he last departed for Yemen in July 2003, he intended to stay 7-8 months, then return. He maintained his failure to return was the result of being taken into custody in 2004 and so precluded from entering the U.S. until his release in December 2010. Therefore, a discrepancy in the evidence existed as to whether Otaifah was released in 2007 versus 2010. 

Nevertheless, the IJ decided Otaifah was freed from incarceration in 2007 and able to return to the U.S. during the period from September 2007 and December 2010. The IJ considered the multiple years between 2007 and 2010 an unexplained absence because Otaifah was free and able to return to the U.S., but did not do so.

Based on his finding, the IJ treated Otaifah’s unexplained absence from 2007 to 2010 as “a permanent resident status adopted but then abandoned by departure for an unexplained, lengthy period of time, well more than a year” and held Otaifah “in fact abandoned his lawful permanent resident status in the United States.” 

In so finding, the IJ considered evidence of Otaifah’s ties to the U.S. during the relevant time period(s) as indicia of his intent (or lack thereof) to maintain permanent residence in the U.S. including: Otaifah did not have a U.S. bank account; he had not paid U.S. taxes; he was estranged from his wife; Otaifah had a child who remained in Yemen; Otaifah was not close to his father-in- law; and, Otaifah had no property in the U.S., but property, a store, work, and land in Yemen. 

The IJ found relevant Otaifah’s first two stays in the U. S. were short (2-3 months). Otaifah was unable to find work during the first stay, and during the second – he found work but apparently quit after a short period of time. The IJ further noted Otaifah last flew to Yemen with no return air ticket to the United States.

The IJ was especially concerned Otaifah “came to the United States, left, came to the United States and left, he never appeared to have fully established himself in the United States; rather, it appeared that he was visiting the United States and returning to a domicile in Yemen.”

Consequently, the IJ ordered Otaifah’s removal to Yemen.  

Otaifah thereafter appealed the IJ’s order. On appeal, the BIA narrowly focused on the evidentiary inconsistency regarding Otaifah’s release date. Specifically, the IJ based his finding Otaifah was released in September 2007 on a prison release form dated 09/07, yet in the body of the form it states he was released in 2010.

Since Otaifah claimed he was released in 2010 – the BIA held the government (despite the presumption of abandonment) did not meet its burden to establish Otaifah, who was in Yemen between 2003 and 2010, intended to abandon his status as a lawful permanent resident. The BIA remanded for clarification as to the actual date on which Otaifah was released from prison in Yemen and thereby free to return to the United States.         

As discussed in Part I, the government must prove intent to abandon LPR status in the United States. The above case illustrates the interplay between factors relevant to finding intent including the length of time and frequency one spends abroad, the nature of those visits, the presumption of abandonment for absences in excess of a year, the importance of documentary evidence demonstrating strong and fixed ties to the U.S., and the importance of accurately documenting the temporary purpose of the trip abroad, or how an unexpected occurrence impeded return within a year. 

Sharma Law Offices, a highly rated immigration law firm, remains available to consult on matters affecting travel and status