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