Help me understand what happens next, green card edition
November 4, 2014 4:53 AM   Subscribe

Mrs. Duoshao is a foreign national and we're both living abroad in her native land. We've just been through the process to get her an immigrant visa to the US of A and have succeeded (yay!). Her passport now has a big old CR-1 visa in it. The question is, how do we manage the next bit?

We'd like to make a calm, deliberate, well planned move to the US, but didn't feel like we could start the process until we found out her immigration status and the docs from the government even said not to make any job changes, etc, before the decision comes back. Now we know her status, and I'm trying to understand if our time scale is going to be driven by visa-related requirements more so than by our job and living arrangements as I'd prefer.

We'd like to go to the US to celebrate Christmas with my family, but as I understand it when she enters the US for the first time with the CR-1 visa this will trigger the process for the government to issue the I-551/green card.

My question is, what are our limitations on being outside of the US after she enters the US at Christmas time? Is it ok for us to return to our current country of residence and spend 6-12 months wrapping things up and then settle down in the US or will this be a violation of the green card's requirements about time spent in the US annually? Also, after we move to the US, how limited will we be in spending time outside the US?

My Google-fu has failed me on this one and what I find on the State Dept website is mostly about the application process, so I'm hoping someone on the green has been through the green card (heh heh) process and can offer some insight.
posted by duoshao to Law & Government (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know that everyone on Ask.Me hates the rote 'ask a lawyer' answer, but sometimes it really is the best answer.

I've been married twice, both times to foreign nationals. The first time we thought we were too poor for a proper lawyer- he was issued a voluntary deportation due to paperwork errors. The second marriage, we used a lawyer and he's now a citizen (and we are happily married too!). It's SO worth the money to MAKE SURE you are doing things correctly. The USCIS is very unforgiving.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:02 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would check out Visa Journey. Go to Forums, there is a thread for CR-1 visas with standard information and queries, and if that doesn't answer everything, you can post a question.

There are some very well-informed people who post at this site. I started my green card process (via marriage) with a lawyer, and then did the citizenship myself. If you have no red flags or issues with your case, you can easily do the whole thing from CR-1 to citizenship on your own, provided you are good at following directions, filling out forms, and taking the process VERY seriously. You need to follow every rule to the 'T' and then some, if they ask for x amount of documentation, you give them x plus 50%. If they say you need to stay in the U.S. x number of days per year to stay in status for a green card, you add to that. Never do the bare minimum. A lot of the process is discretionary on the part of agents.

(The only question I can answer off the top of my head is that once your spouse has a green card, she needs to reside at least six months a year in the U.S.) Check out those links, there is a wealth of information there.
posted by nanook at 6:37 AM on November 4, 2014

I don't know about CR-1 visas, but maintaining permanent residency is covered by this USCIS page. Having an American spouse likely lowers the barrier for showing intent to return permanently to the US, even if out of the country for months at a time. There is no requirement I'm aware of that you have to spend six months out of each year in the US.

Indeed, being in higher education, I know many green card holders, some of which do attempt to live more or less permanently outside of the US, perhaps visiting once/year in an attempt to maintain status. I have second-hand knowledge of this scheme occasionally failing (green cards being revoked), and direct knowledge of it working for extended periods.
posted by deadweightloss at 7:37 AM on November 4, 2014

From the USCIS website on International Travel as a Permanent Resident: "Additionally, absences from the United States of six months or more may disrupt the continuous residency required for naturalization". Something to consider.
posted by nanook at 9:46 AM on November 4, 2014

The link from deadweightloss has it. USCIS has these guidelines but be aware everything is up to the USCIS agent reviewing your case (or letting you in at the border). Be very careful about spending too long outside the US, even if you apply for a reentry permit, nothing is guaranteed. Also seconding Visajourney as a source of good info.

Just for your future timeline: on the 2nd anniversary of receiving your green card (you apply within the 90 day window before that), she will need to 'remove conditions' if you want to stay living in the USA. On the 3rd anniversary of receiving your green card (again, apply within the 90 day window before that), if you are still married, she can apply for citizenship (note you don't *need* to - you can stay a permanent resident) - once you get that you can travel/live abroad as much as you like and not worry (but don't forget to keep filing taxes!). It's 5 years if you don't do it on the basis of marriage. For all these things there will be biometrics appointments and interviews to attend in person.
posted by atlantica at 9:49 AM on November 4, 2014

You should also consider your tax situation when considering how long to be inside/outside the USA.

You should hire an accountant with familiarity with both US/home country tax law. You'll need guidance on how to deal with non-US assets to optimize your experience with the IRS. You will also have to understand the residency requirements that trigger the filing of a tax return in the home country. US tax rates are one of the cheapest worldwide so you will probably want to stay resident in the US at least 6 months a year just so you can file a regular 1040 (not 1040-NR) and not file a tax return in the home country.
posted by crazycanuck at 5:28 PM on November 4, 2014

From what I know it is very important that your spouse is not out of the country for longer than 6 months. That would break her continous residency term and could really jeopardize things.
posted by jellyjam at 2:01 AM on November 5, 2014

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