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Q: How long can a green card holder remain outside the United States and not have a problem returning?
A: Irwine Clare of the Queens-based Caribbean Immigrant Services says an immigrant visa or a 'green card' is valid for re-entry within one year of departure. If you want to stay abroad for more than one year, you should get an INS reentry permit. You must apply for the permit while in the United States. It is valid for re-entry for two years and you can renew it.
The confusion comes because even if you return within one year, the INS can challenge your right to return. How much time you spend abroad is only part of the answer. More important is the reason for your trip. If you did not abandon your residence, even if you are abroad for MORE THAN one year, you have the right to return. The main issue is whether you abandoned your residence. The INS will rarely question you about stays abroad of six months. After six months, the INS can ask you to prove that you have maintained your residence in the United States. Proof of residence could include a bank account, maintaining an apartment or house, and proof that any lengthy stay abroad was for unexpected or unusual circumstances.
Q: If I stay abroad too long, can I lose my U.S. citizenship? I've been a naturalised citizen for 15 years and would like to move back to my country of birth.
A: The U.S. Immigration Law says you can stay abroad as long as you like without losing your U.S. citizenship. At one time, a person who gave up U.S. residence shortly after naturalisation might have risked losing their U.S. citizenship. That's no longer the case. Once an immigrant naturalises, he or she can move abroad and retain citizenship in the U.S. as well as in their own country.
Q: I recently began the process of sponsoring my sister to live in the United States. Now I'm being told I need to provide an affidavit of support. What is this affidavit of support?
A: Attorney Stephen Yale-Loehr says the affidavit of support in layman's terms is basically a contract you are entering into with the U.S. Government and your relative that says you can support them financially until that person becomes a citizen or completes 10 years of work. This is the government's way of protecting itself and preventing the new immigrant from going on welfare. You must prove that you earn an income of over 125 per cent above the poverty level. As proof, you are required to provide U.S. Federal income tax returns for the three most recent tax years as well as proof of current employment.
March 2, 2003
Q: How long will it take an adult son of a permanent resident to immigrate?
A: Dolly Hassan of the Liberty Center for Immigrants says that according to the February 2003 visa bulletin published by the U.S. State Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is only now processing applications in this Second Preference category that were filed on May 22, 1994. This means that people now receiving their visas in this category have been waiting for approximately eight years. However, the bulletin shows a much shorter time for the First Preference category or adult sons or daughters of a U. S. citizen.
Still, Hassan says, your parent could file a petition for you as long as you are unmarried. The U.S. INS requires that your parents file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, along with a copy of their alien registration card and a copy of your birth certificate showing their name and your name. Forms can be obtained by calling the INS Forms Center at 1-800-870-3676. The filing fee is now $96. Applications can be sent to the INS office nearest to where they live. In New York, it is INS New York City District Office, 26 Federal Plaza, New York City, NY 10278.
Once this happens, your application will be accorded a priority date and placed in the second preference category. If the application is approved, you will be notified by the Department of State when a visa number, is available. You must then go to the local U.S. consulate to complete visa processing.
When your parent is naturalised, the petition could be upgraded automatically to first preference. So, says Hassan, expect to wait at least six years, that is, assuming your parent becomes a US citizen during this time.
Q: My dad filed for my family and I since January 1998. He is a US citizen. To date I haven't received any documents from the US embassy. Why is it taking this long?
A: John Stahl, citizenship and immigration counsellor with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, says married children and their spouses are considered third preference category for permanent residency sponsorship. As of this month, petitions in the third category that were filed on and before February 8, 1997, are being processed now. Since your priority date (date of filing) was in February 1998, you still have approximately another year before further processing. Around that time, your dad should be receiving further paperwork and you can start preparing for your interview at the US embassy in your country.
About the writer: Felicia Persaud is a New York-based journalist covering immigration and head of Hard Beat Communications. If you or someone you know has an immigration question, then email Felicia directly at email@example.com. Individuals can keep their anonymity if preferred, since questions will not be answered personally. And as always, it's best to check with an attorney on any issue you may have.