Many people move to the United States to marry an American fiance(e), join family members, accept a job offer, or invest in a business. While a lot of these newcomers eventually become U.S. citizens, others choose to maintain permanent resident (green card holder) status.

Although legal permanent residents cannot vote in U.S. elections or remain outside the country for over a year (without facing the assumption that they have abandoned their residency), they do share several key rights enjoyed by citizens, including the right to bankruptcy protection.

If you are a green card holder who has accumulated a lot of debt, then you can absolutely seek relief under U.S. bankruptcy laws, which define a debtor as someone who either lives or has a home, business, or property in this country. The Bankruptcy Code says nothing about having to be a citizen: you simply have to prove that you live here.

Domicile requirements

To file for Chapter 7 in New York, you need to be able to show that you have lived at the address served by your local bankruptcy court for at least 180 days prior to filing. Although address claims are rarely challenged, you can prove domicile in a variety of ways, such as the address on your driver’s license or utility bill.

What if you don’t have an SSN?

Although you don’t have to have a social security number, you will be asked to provide one on the bankruptcy forms, and at the 341 meeting (meeting of creditors), your trustee will likely ask to see it as proof of your identity. If you don’t have one for any reason, then be prepared to present the following:

  • Your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
  • Photo ID, such as a driver’s license or New York State ID card.

Tax returns

You are required to submit tax returns filed prior to your Chapter 7 filing or provide (under oath) a valid reason why you are not obligated to file a tax return. The Inability to do so can impact your ability to seek bankruptcy protection and possibly cause immigration problems too.

Do you have overseas debts?

Questions frequently arise about debts that a green card holder has incurred in another country, and whether a bankruptcy court in the U.S. has the ability to discharge them. In most cases, foreign creditors won’t be able to pursue you in the U.S. as long as they received proper notice of your Chapter 7 filing, but they may try to collect the debt by pursuing assets that you have in that country, such as bank accounts or real estate. Your New York bankruptcy attorney can advise you in this regard.

In short, bankruptcy protection is not limited to U.S. citizens alone. When you hire a New York bankruptcy attorney, they can explain whether any unusual circumstances may apply to your case and advise you on how to proceed. Jayson Lutzky is a personal bankruptcy lawyer with over 36 years of experience. He offers free in-person initial consultations at his office located in the Morris Park neighborhood of the Bronx. Call 718-514-6619 to set up an appointment.