Last week, the Houston Business Journal reported on a growing trend of American expats returning to the Houston area to meet the demand for experienced and skilled employees in Houston’s growing energy sector. While these returning expats might be United States citizens with no immigration issues themselves, they often face challenges related to their family members.
One common issue is the process of relocating a non-citizen spouse and stepchildren to the United States. Employment assignments and new work opportunities can arise with little or no notice, but obtaining any kind of visa – temporary or longer term - for a fiancee, spouse and any stepchildren – can be a challenge.In addition, expats who may be transferred out of the United States again in the future often face difficulty in determining how to preserve their spouse and stepchildren’s permanent residence in the United States (also commonly called their “greencard”). When a person with a greencard spends an extensive period of time outside the United States, they risk abandoning their permanent residence in the United States. Even where they are able to maintain their greencard, applying for citizenship can be delayed for years as a result of extended trips outside the U.S. Fortunately, there are a few steps that expatriates and their families can take in order to get through these times:
- A spouse may qualify for a visitor visa if he or she is accompanying a U.S. citizen spouse during a brief trip to the United States, but it is important to prepare documentary evidence before applying for a visa or using the visa to enter the United States in order to avoid a visa denial or a problem at the Port of Entry;
- A spouse may also qualify for one of the temporary work visa classifications in some circumstances, particularly where he/she is employed by a multinational company. It is important to explore this as a possibility;
- The process of getting a greencard for a spouse and/or stepchildren can be started from overseas. Since it can take anywhere from 9-12 months or more, it is important to start well advance of the end of an overseas assignment, but if travel in the middle of the process is required, an experienced immigration attorney may be able to help;
- Spouses of U.S. citizens who are taking a new assignment overseas can help to preserve their permanent residence even during trips of one year or more by obtaining a Reentry Permit, which is a travel document that allows greencard holders to be absent from the United States for 1-2 years. People interested in applying for a reentry permit should consult with an experienced attorney to determine how to plan future travels in order to preserve the possibility of applying for citizenship;
- In some cases, spouses of United States citizens who do have to take an overseas assignment may qualify for expedited naturalization. Anyone interested in pursuing this should talk to an experienced immigration attorney to determine if he/she qualifies for this process.
Relocating back to the United States or planning to leave the U.S. to take an overseas assignment can bring immigration issues to the forefront of a family. It is important to speak to an experienced immigration attorney about your particular travel needs and your family’s immigration status in order to take steps to obtain – or keep – any immigration status and to preserve the possibility of future benefits applications.