Reclaiming old status

Posted by Debbie McGoldrick at 3/16/2009 3:17 PM EDT
"I was given a Morrison visa green card approximately 14 years ago and worked in the U.S. for three to four years, but returned to Ireland before the final year for personal reasons.

A couple of years later I was going back to the U.S. for a wedding and was stopped at Shannon and told I had a choice to sign a form and surrender my green card and continue to the wedding or not travel at all. I chose the former.

That was eight years ago. Since then I have been in and out of America on holidays and business meetings.

My question is, after all this time is it possible to reclaim the green card? My current company is looking for me to move to the U.S. for a number of years to their American division, and I will probably at this stage settle there.

They mentioned securing a work visa (as I am a senior engineering manager) but I don't want to be 100 percent committed/controlled by them. What are my options?"

Yours is a question this column receives from time to time, and the frequency could be even greater in the coming year as the global recession takes further root in Ireland, causing former U.S. residents to contemplate a possible return here.

However, in your case, because of the length of time you've lived outside the U.S., your old Morrison green card is well and truly null and void. Given that you resided in Ireland for two years before you returned here for a wedding, it's not surprising that you were asked to surrender the document at Shannon. Those who own green cards are obligated to maintain a permanent, primary residence in the U.S.

It is possible for green card holders to leave the U.S. for an extended period of time, but paperwork must be completed and filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) prior to departure. (The I-131 form, when approved, allows a permanent resident to remain outside the U.S. for up to two years.)

If you wish to return to the U.S., your company sponsorship for a new visa will be your best option by far. It is true that if the company sponsors you for a temporary work visa, which would likely be the L-1 intra-company transfer work visa, you will have to maintain your employment with the firm.

However, the most important thing, if you wish to live in the U.S. for good, is to come here legally and remain in legal status, which would allow you to explore your options with other companies here. Perhaps you would be able to find another U.S. firm that would be willing to act as a visa sponsor.

One thing to bear in mind - though temporary work visas are employer specific, if your Irish/American company sponsored you for an employment-based green card, which they would be entitled to do (and you seem to have the qualifications for), you would not be obligated to work for the company after the status was approved.

It's likely that you could qualify for a third preference employment green card, which is reserved for, among others, professionals who hold a bachelor's degree or above.

The process of applying for this green card, though, would take much longer than securing the L visa. Maybe you could discuss the possibility of your company sponsoring you for a green card after you arrive here.

You could, of course, apply for the annual green card lottery, but the entry period for the upcoming round just passed, and the next one isn't due until the fall.

That lottery, unlike the Morrison one, contains no guaranteed number for the Irish, and in fact the chances of success are extremely slim, given the small number of visas available (50,000 per year) and the large number of applicants (millions worldwide).

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