How can someone revoke your U.S. residence, permanently — and you won’t even find out.

US immigration forms and procedures lack adequate security, letting anyone renounce your permanent residence status.

How can someone revoke your U.S. residence, permanently — and you won’t even find out.

US immigration forms and procedures lack adequate security, letting anyone renounce your permanent residence status.

Political propaganda paper lying on the Westminster Bridge, London.
Photo by Metin Ozer / Unsplash

When it comes to U.S. immigration, the plethora of information available on law websites and the internet revolves around overcoming hurdles in your way of securing a U.S. green card — an irrefutable proof of U.S. permanent residency. Not many resources proportionally cover how to give up one.

USCIS, the federal agency notorious for restricting the number of green cards issued each year have stringent rules in place, high fees and lengthy green card wait times surpassing a decade. However the procedure to ‘revoke’ your green card voluntarily is rather straightforward and costs nothing.

For multiple reasons a foreign national may choose to willingly renounce their permanent resident status. When moving to another country, they may no longer want to also be liable for paying U.S. taxes, for example, or to avoid complications when visiting the U.S. in future for short trips as a visitor.

The procedure to renounce your green card involves filing the straightforward form I-407 with USCIS. Whereas in the past USCIS would accept the form in person, along with a physical copy of your green card, under Trump administration, a recent change introduced in July 2019 now mandates the form submission be made via snail mail only.

The ‘too simple’ a process

Here’s where things get interesting.
Two crucial pieces of information required on Form I-407 are your Alien Number aka USCIS number, and date of birth. All other pieces of information, such as your name and country of birth can easily be deduced by, or may already be known to someone who knows you well enough — especially if they are an enemy. All of this information is also present on your green card.

USCIS Form I-407: Record of Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status

While the form does ask for “date of last departure from the United States,” the field may not be applicable to all cases. What if someone was adjusting status or renouncing their green card after already having obtained a different visa from Department of State? It is also not known if this date is checked against CBP records (which are known for frequent inaccuracies, and may not even be maintained for permanent residents and citizens) or is merely a field to record the last day you claim being a permanent resident, such as, for tax purposes.

The form then requires you to fill out seemingly benign fields: a reason for the abandonment of residence (just cuz) and a mailing address where you’d like the receipt to be mailed, after the processing is complete — which takes “less than 60 days.

The security loophole

The form does not require you to submit a physical green card via mail if you’re able to provide a good enough reason. Additionally, the form does not have any security questions, or identity verification workflow built into it, letting anyone file an I-407 via snail mail. For example, an imposter could simply check the “Lost” box as one of the reasons as to why a green card has not been enclosed.

Anyone in possession of a copy of your green card, such as that emailed to an employer or uploaded onto a server when applying for jobs, or anyone with knowledge of your A-Number and date of birth can file an I-407, put in an arbitrary mailing address, and mail it in— all without your express consent and knowledge.

You will not be made privy to the malicious act even after the processing is complete, for USCIS would be mailing the “confirmation receipt” to the address put in by the imposter. You may continue living in complete oblivion; blind to the fact that your legal permanent residence has long been revoked, effectively putting you out of status; at par with the “undocumented.”

If you think this is a far fetched scenario, just think of all the places where an A-Number and date of birth are used: applying for jobs (recall form I-9 that asks for it), U.S. government loans, immigration forms, benefits, weapon carry permits, driving licenses, health care systems, and many more places.

What could happen if the information is leaked or falls into wrong hands? This isn’t so difficult to imagine in the age of data breaches we live in.

Safeguarding yourself

Common sense dictates keeping sensitive information secure. However, should a key piece of your sensitive information, such as SSN, ever be compromised, never are the consequences this severe. At most you may incur some trouble with an identity thief posing to be you, or some discrepancies on your credit report which are reversible. But when it comes to your A-Number falling into malicious hands, there is a possibility of an irreversible “worst case scenario.”

Once filed, there is no known way to undo an Abandonment of Lawful Permanent Resident Status, without you having start from scratch. In fact, by signing an I-407 the person acknowledges having “affirmatively waived [their] right to a hearing before an immigration judge.”

Yes, you should try your hardest to keep your A-Number and green card information secure, and only provide copies to parties that absolutely require it. But you cannot guarantee how these parties will be handling your information, or if their systems will be breached. What happens then?

Let’s just also hope these organisations — public or private, don’t keep overly xenophobic employees who’d be indulging in these ‘practical jokes’ just for the sake of having some fun, or because they secretly harbour anti-immigrant resentment. Now that claim is far fetched, but it’s a possibility.

How do I know all this?

Because I myself had to file an I-407 three times after moving out of the U.S., but was rather surprised by the simplicity of the process. The procedure was devoid of any security or identity verification in place. I did not return the physical green card with the mailing, and preferred shredding it myself instead — and thank God I did:

After filing for the first time, my mail successfully made it to the U.S. port but got lost without explanation at the New York Customs ‘blackhole site’. To this day, it appears to be in transit after over four months.

My second attempt to file the form via untracked mail, hoping it would be treated like a ‘letter’ and bypass customs may or may not have succeeded — I had no means of knowing. Finally, to be sure, I used “Mail A Letter” service to upload a scan of my I-407, and had them print and mail it in domestically, within the U.S. An email receipt arrived in approximately 45 days after the filing, followed by a paper copy confirming, I was no longer a U.S. permanent resident, and it arrived at the foreign address I had put on the form.

© 2020. Ax Sharma. All Rights Reserved. A non-exclusive permission is hereby granted for this article to be syndicated or reproduced by anyone without requiring express written permission of the author, as long as they link back to this page where the article originated, and credit the author properly.

Ax Sharma

Security Engineer | Researcher | Tech Columnist |

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