WHEN THE WORK AND PLAY ABROAD ENDS: US EXPAT FAMILY IMMIGRATION CONSIDERATIONS WHEN MOVING BACK TO THE UNITED STATES
In this interconnected world, many US expats find themselves working or studying or “playing” abroad for lengthy periods of time… in Europe, Asia, South America and many other places. A US expat might move abroad for a temporary period of time for love, for employment, or just to experience a new culture. In many of these expat situations, an “international” family unit ends up being created, such as marriage of a US Citizen to a foreign national. Children are born of the marriage abroad, often with possible dual citizenship. Yet when circumstances change, or the love of “home” grows too strong to resist any longer, and US expats decide to move back to the US with their overseas families, that can create some unique and complex US expat family immigration planning considerations. However, those immigration considerations usually take a back seat to practical issues, such as house hunting in the US, locating new employment, shipping belongings back to the US, and the like.
My immigration attorney experience when advising international clients has been that many expat families often don’t give much consideration to immigration issues until right before a planned move, and experience some very unpleasant surprises and lengthy separations as a result. Immigration considerations are extremely important to any expat international family repatriation back to the United States, and failure to plan ahead can potentially result in long periods of family unit separation. Thus, this article will hopefully be a help to international expat families considering a move back to the US, to provide an overview of US expat family immigration law considerations involved for US expats and their international families.
US EXPAT FAMILY IMMIGRATION CONSIDERATION NUMBER 1:
DITCH THE INTERNET, FRIENDS AND CHAT GROUPS AND CONSULT AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY!
The Internet is a wonderful thing. It makes a ton of information available in an instant to anyone with access to a search engine. Facebook groups allow thousands of people to exchange information on a given topic. In many cases, this is a very positive thing. However, when it comes to legal issues, this overload of information can be extremely dangerous. Many people love to “play” lawyer, not just on TV, but also on the Internet. The amount of “bad” or flat out “wrong” legal advice in Internet groups and blog comments is overwhelming. This holds true for immigration law as well as any other area of law. In short, there is no substitute for seeking legal information from an experienced lawyer.
Would you pick a random stranger on the Internet to perform knee replacement surgery on you? In the same way, if you accept wrong immigration law advice from a stranger in a chat group on the Internet regarding your move, it can have catastrophic implications for your family. Every expat immigration situation can be unique and complex. Strangers on the Internet, or even other friends, are no substitute for the peace of mind that comes from seeking the advice and counsel of an immigration attorney before your planned move.
US EXPAT FAMILY IMMIGRATION CONSIDERATION NUMBER 2:
GET ADVICE AND PLAN WAY AHEAD OF THE MOVE!
EVERY situation involving a US expat relocating his or her international family back to the United States is unique, and often can be complex. There are often multiple considerations regarding what US expat family immigration process to follow. In many cases, there will be different processing options and alternatives, each with their own time frame, and their own unique legal and practical considerations. US expat family immigration can very often take months, and often almost a year, depending upon your circumstances. Yes… you may have a friend who did it in weeks! Or you may have seen on the Internet someone who did it in days! Yet everyone’s situation is different, be it different visa categories, different processing considerations, and even whether the process was done in an entirely legal way (some folks do things unscrupulously, and get lucky and get away with it… that doesn’t mean you want to risk your luck and your family’s future doing it the same way).
Employment considerations in the US will often play a role in the process, and sometimes “immigrant intent” issues can play a role. The country you live in can be a factor in the process. Financial and school considerations can sometimes impact the immigration process. The farther in advance of a planned move you seek the guidance of an immigration attorney, the better positioned you will be to minimize the period of family separation due to the expat immigration process. Don’t assume that your situation will be the same as a friend or co-worker. Planning well ahead, and speaking with an immigration attorney at the first inkling of a planned move back to the US with your international family, can save a tremendous amount of stress and delay down the road.
US EXPAT FAMILY IMMIGRATION CONSIDERATION NUMBER 3:
AFFIDAVIT OF SUPPORT ISSUES AND DOMICILE ISSUES IF YOU’VE BEEN OUTSIDE THE US FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD
Related to the concept of planning ahead and getting immigration law advice well ahead of time, US expat moves back to the US with an international family can raise unique affidavit of support issues. In most family immigration scenarios, the US petitioner must meet required income levels from either US income sources or through assets. As many expats do not have US employment when living overseas, or significant US assets, this can present a challenge. In some cases, the US petitioner might have to move back before the rest of the family to secure satisfactory employment that will meet poverty guidelines requirements. In other cases, a joint sponsor can solve the issues.
On top of affidavit of support issues, the US petitioner must also have domicile in the US under the law. For expats, this can present some unique concerns where the petitioning US expat has been resident overseas for an extended period of time. In many cases, the US expat petitioner must first work to re-establish domicile before the time arrives for the immigrant visa interview for international family members. These actions often need to be taken well ahead of the interview, to convince the embassy officer that the US petitioner is indeed domiciled in the US or will be at the time of the “big move”. Legal advice can be critical for smoothly navigating affidavit of support and domicile issues for US expats and their families.
US EXPAT FAMILY IMMIGRATION CONSIDERATION NUMBER 4:
IDENTIFYING FAMILY MEMBERS WHO NEED AN IMMIGRATION PETITION
In some cases, a US expat moving back to the US with their international family might not even need an immigration petition for all family members. Some members (such as children) might already be US citizens by operation of law, either through parents or grandparents, even if they aren’t aware of it. For US expats who have been outside the United States for a very long period of time with international children, US citizenship laws might be vague and confusing to them. Even international spouses of US expats might be US citizens through their parents without being aware of it, if their parents had spent some time in the US at some point. US citizenship laws can be very confusing, and it is not uncommon for clients to be confused as to which family members need an immigration petition filed for them before a move back to the US, or completely unaware that an immigration petition might not even be necessary at all. While in many cases it may be obvious, in other cases it is not. Thus, consulting with a good immigration lawyer prior to an expat move back to the US, can sometimes identify paths to a quick move that a client may have never realized was possible.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
AN IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY CAN BE A US EXPAT’S BEST FRIEND FOR THEIR FAMILY
It would be impossible (and extremely imprudent) to be able to write a “one size fits all” article about how a US expat tackles US immigration issues when moving their international family back to the US after a stay abroad. Every family’s situation is different with its own unique blend of considerations and complexities. Thus, the most important first step a US expat can take is to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer familiar with US expat moves and issues. Even if you end up doing the rest of the process yourself, at least knowing all the possible issues that could arise with your scenario, and getting all the pertinent information about your various alternatives at the earliest stage possible, can lead to a smooth move back to the good ‘ole US of A for you and your family.