I am a US citizen by birth. My wife of 13 years (14 years in August), is a citizen of South Korea. In October of 2003 after 5 years of marriage and worthily after the birth of our daughter (of course also a US citizen by birth) we moved from Germany to the United States, and my wife began the process of applying for LPR status. The process concluded with the issuance of her Green Card in November 2004 with a 10-year validity. We purchased a home in Maine in the spring of 2006, which we still own.
In 2009/2010 my position as a teacher of German at a public middle school in Massachusetts was threatened, and at the same time I was offered a position teaching German at the US Embassy affiliated American School of Warsaw in Poland. In order to ensure my uninterrupted employment, I accepted the position and we moved to Warsaw in August 2010. Unfortunately, we were very naive about what impact this would have on my wife's LPR status (I had assumed that her status was secure until 2014, as that is the date printed on her Green Card).
It was only after arriving in Poland and speaking to friends and colleagues who have been in similar situations that we learned that she needed to apply for a re-entry permit prior to our departure. Consultations with the consular section of the Embassy in Warsaw made it clear to us that this permit could only be procured in the US, and that DHS/USCIS would almost certainly consider consider my wife's LPR status as abandoned. When we returned to the US for the summer in June (2.5 weeks ago), we were afraid that my wife might be denied entry and immediately put back on a plane to Poland, so we "played it safe" and entered her as a tourist on the visa waiver program. (I now understand this may have been a near-fatal mistake.)
About 2 weeks ago we presented ourselves to the DHS offices in South Portland, Maine to officially hear what their view of my wife's LPR status was. We were initially informed that her status would be considered abandoned and that they would be confiscating her Green Card and presented us with a form to officially abandon her status. I read the form and asked them about question 6, asking for the reason that she "willingly" abandoned or was planning to abandon her status. I asked for clarification on how to answer that question, because we had not "willingly" abandoned her status at all, but rather accidentally or unwittingly done so. At this time three agents convened to discuss our situation further. When our officer returned, she took the form away, returned my wife's passport and Green Card to her, and indicated that we should seek legal assistance.
In the opinion of a friend of a friend, who is an immigration lawyer in Pennsylvania, the fact that the DHS official returned my wife's Green Card to her indicates that - for the time being - they have chosen NOT to consider her LPR status as abandoned, as if they did, they would surely not have returned the card. We indicated to them that we DO still jointly own a house in Maine, maintain bank accounts in Maine, file with the IRS annually, and our "home of record" continues to be in Maine.
So the areas on which we need clarification are as follows:
- Is my wife's LPR status valid? That is, does DHS consider her status as abandoned or not?
IF her LPR status is valid, there are two paths to resolution of our issue, and we'd need advice on which path to follow and how.
- Apply now for a reentry permit to be collected at the US Embassy in Warsaw after we return to Poland. (I continue to be employed there.)
- Apply now for naturalization based on her 6 years of continuous legal presence in the US prior to our departure in 2010, with the understanding that my wife would have to return once or possibly twice to the US for the interview and for the oath.
We would greatly appreciate any assistance you can provide us on this strange case.