"I MOVED to Ireland 21 months ago. I had a green card and lived in the U.S. for eight years, but decided to move back home to be with family and friends. I haven't settled in Ireland and I'm thinking of coming back, but I'm concerned that I won't be able to do so, and that my green card will be of no use to me. Is this so? Is there anything I can do?"
THE best thing for you to do is apply for what's known as a returning resident status, which necessitates the issuance of an SB-1 visa. Such documents can be issued to qualified applicants seeking to return to the U.S. after a prolonged period abroad, but they are by no means easy to obtain.
SB-1 visas are issued to those who can prove all of the following - lawful permanent residency at the time of departure from the U.S.; an intent to return to the U.S. at the time of departure and throughout the stay abroad; the trip abroad was prolonged due to reasons beyond the applicant's control.
The second and third requirements are obviously not going to be easy for you to meet, unless you've maintained ties with the U.S. during your time away - i.e., financial accounts, a lease on a home, compliance with U.S. income tax law, etc. Such evidence will be required in order for the SB-1 visa to be approved.
You should apply for the SB-1 several weeks before you intend to return to the U.S., and collect as much proof as possible asserting your claim that your green card should remain valid.
Again, all those with permanent resident status intending to leave the U.S. "for good," should realize that these plans don't always work out as desired, and that there are simple steps that can be taken to preserve status in the event that a return to the U.S. is required.
This week's questioner could have applied for an I-131 re-entry permit before departure from the U.S. The permit would have allowed for an absence of up to two years, with legal status maintained for that time.