Working Outside the U.S. With a Green Card

If you have a green card and you are going to work outside of the United States, learn how to avoid abandoning your permanent residence, or disrupting your eligibility to become a U.S. citizen.

By JoAnn L. Barten, J.D., Iowa Immigration Attorney

Permanent residents (green card holders) can lose their status even if they visit the U.S. often. Once an immigrant has received their green card, typically she or he wants to keep residency and have the ability to travel abroad. The regulations and rules residents must follow to avoid losing their green card can be confusing.

"Abandonment or Relinquishment" of Permanent Residency

The process of losing residency is called "abandonment or relinquishment." The abandonment process is typically - but not always - involuntary and can occur by Customs & Border Protection office determining a permanent resident has abandoned their residency when they inspect the resident in line at the airport or other port of entry. It can also occur by Customs and Border Protection or by Citizenship and Immigration Services issuing a Notice to Appear in front of an Immigration Judge for a removal/deportation hearing to determine abandonment.

How to Avoid Abandonment of Your Permanent Residency

To avoid a finding of abandonment of your permanent residency status you must show two elements:

1. Show your objective intention to return to U.S.

Abandonment of residency is measured from the moment the person first establishes residence outside the U.S. This means, it does not necessarily matter how short a time the person leaves the U.S. on a trip if the true intention is to move abroad. In one case, a person who expressed to the U.S. government that they did not intend to leave the U.S., but at the same time resided in Rome for 3 years, was found to have a principal dwelling place in Rome rather than the U.S.

You must show your objective intention to return to the U.S. For this reason it is important to keep and store documents to support your intent to have your residence in the U.S. Examples of such items are mortgages, club memberships, church membership records, utility and insurance bills, a vehicle, vehicle registration, filing taxes as a resident, maintaining a U.S. driver’s license, bank accounts, etc.

2. No absence of longer than one year (unless given an exception).

The regulations require automatic invalidation of your green card for trips over one year unless the resident meets an exception found at INA § 316(b). One example of an exception is where a resident is employed or under contract abroad with the government of the United States.

(If you are planning a long absence, get a reentry permit before leaving. Please see Reentry Permit Process for U.S. Permanent Residents to learn more.)

To Gain U.S. Citizenship - Avoid "Disruption" of Residency

In addition to maintaining your green card status, if you are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen in the future, you do not want to create a disruption of your residency for naturalization purposes. These requirements are in addition to avoiding abandonment requirements above.

1. State residence requirement. You must live 3 months in the state where the application is filed. See INA § 316(a)(1).

2. Physically present 1/2 of the last five years. You must be on U.S. soil or a U.S. territory at least 2 ½ years out of the 5 years before the application is filed. See INA § 316(a). This may be difficult to meet if the resident is working abroad.

3. Reside continuously in the U.S. from the date of filing the application to the date of swearing in. Do not file the application and then move your residence outside the U.S. before the swearing-in ceremony. After filing the naturalization application, the resident must be in the U.S. to provide fingerprints and a photograph through a biometrics appointment with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The biometrics appointment and background checks will be completed before the naturalization interview. (See INA § 316(a)(2))

4. Avoid trips over 6 months. When a resident takes trips outside the U.S. lasting between 6 months and 1 year, at the naturalization interview, the resident has the burden of overcoming the presumption of the loss of residence. See INA § 316(b). Factors which help establish continuity of residence are:

  1. not terminating employment in the U.S.,
  2. presence of immediate family in the U.S.,
  3. keeping full access to your U.S. home (don’t rent out your house),
  4. not obtaining employment abroad. Since trips between 6 months and 1 year require a lot more documentation for the naturalization application, I typically advise avoiding any trip over 6 months.

5. No absence of longer than one year (unless given an exception). An absence of one year or more automatically disrupts residency for naturalization purposes, unless an exception applies. See 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1)(ii). (As mentioned above, a reentry permit, or "travel document", can help in these situations.)

Exception to Disruption - Working for a U.S. Employer Abroad

One of the exceptions to the disruption of residency for naturalization is when a resident works for a U.S. employer abroad. If you already have more than 1 year of physical presence after receiving your residency status, and you want to work abroad for a U.S. company you may be allowed to file a Form N-470 to prevent your disruption of residency. You must show the U.S. company is engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce, See INA § 316(b) – (c). In order to qualify for the exception as an employee of a private U.S. employer, you will need to show either:

  • Your employer is a subsidiary of a U.S. company, where more than 50% of stock is owned by the U.S. company, or,
  • Your employer is a publicly held corporation that is incorporated in the U.S. and trades stock exclusively on U.S. exchanges, or,
  • Your employer does not trade exclusively on the U.S. stock market, but 51% of ownership is U.S.

Moving abroad to work for a private non-U.S. employer will require the resident to follow all of the abandonment and preserving naturalization rules outlined above.

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