Working Outside the U.S. With a Green Card

U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can lose their status while living and working outside the U.S., even if they visit the U.S. often.

Updated by , Attorney · Capital University Law School

U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders) can lose their immigration status while living and working outside the United States, even if they visit the country often. Once immigrants have received a green card, they typically want to keep U.S. residency and have the ability to travel abroad. The regulations and rules U.S. residents must follow in order to avoid losing their green card can be confusing, but we'll shed some light on them here.

Abandonment or Relinquishment of Permanent Residency

The process of losing U.S. residency is called abandonment or relinquishment. The abandonment process is typically, but not always, involuntary.

It can occur, for example, if a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer determines that a U.S. permanent resident has abandoned residency upon inspecting and questioning the person in line at the airport or other port of entry. It can also occur by CBP or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issuing a Notice to Appear in front of an Immigration Judge (an "NTA") for a removal/deportation hearing to determine abandonment.

How to Avoid Abandoning Your U.S. Permanent Residency

To avoid a governmental finding that you abandoned your U.S. permanent resident status, there are two key elements:

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

Abandonment of residency is measured from the moment the person first establishes residence outside the United States. It does not necessarily matter how short a time the person stays outside the U.S. on a trip if the true intention was to move abroad.

In one case, for example, a person who expressed to the U.S. government that he did not intend to leave the U.S., but at the same time resided in Rome for three years, was found to have a principal dwelling place in Rome rather than the United States. This is an example of how actions can speak louder than words.

You must show your objective intention to return to the United States. For this reason it is important to keep (and have ready to present to the immigration officer upon arrival in the U.S.) documents and evidence to support your intent to have your residence (primary home) in the United States.

Examples of such items are mortgages on a U.S. property, club memberships, church membership records, utility and insurance bills, a vehicle, vehicle registration, tax returns showing that you filed your taxes as a resident, maintaining a U.S. driver's license, bank accounts, and so forth.

2. Make sure you are not outside the U.S. for one year or more (unless you have a reentry permit)

Unless you applied for a reentry permit before departing the U.S., make sure you return within a year. If you spend more than a year abroad, your green card no longer is valid for travel to the United States. In that case, you first must apply to the U.S. consulate or embassy where you are staying for a document calling a "Returning Resident" visa, sometimes called a Boarding Authorization Letter or Returning Resident Visa.

You will need to convince the consular officer, through your statements and supporting documents, that you intended to maintain your U.S. residency when you left and that your stay abroad unexpectedly was extended beyond a year.

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

In addition to maintaining your permanent resident 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 as described above.

  1. State-residence requirement. You must have lived for at least three months in the state where you are residing when you submit your application for naturalization. (See I.N.A. § 316(a)(1).)
  2. Physically present one half of the last five years. You must be on U.S. soil or a U.S. territory at least 30 months out of the five years before submitting your application. (See I.N.A. § 316(a).) This can be difficult to meet if you've been 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 oath (swearing-in) ceremony. After filing the naturalization application, you 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 I.N.A. § 316(a)(2).)
  4. Avoid trips lasting longer than six months. When a U.S. permanent resident takes trips outside the U.S. lasting between six months and one year, at the naturalization interview, that person has the burden of overcoming the presumption that he or she abandoned U.S. residence. (See I.N.A. § 316(b).) Factors helping to establish continuity of residence include:
    • not terminating employment in the U.S.
    • presence of immediate family in the U.S.
    • keeping full access to a U.S. home (in other words, don't rent out your house), and/or
    • not obtaining employment abroad.
  5. No absence of longer than one year (unless you qualify for 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).

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

One of the exceptions to the disruption of residency rule for naturalization is when a resident works for a U.S. employer abroad. If you already have more than one year of U.S. physical presence after receiving your residency status, and you want to work abroad for a U.S. company, you might be allowed to file a USCIS Form N-470.

Approval of this form serves to prevent disruption of your residency for purposes of qualifying to naturalize. You must show that the U.S. company is engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce. (See I.N.A. § 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 that:

  • 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 more than 50% of its ownership is by U.S. persons or companies.

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, with no exception.

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