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Working in the US while living in another country

Whether you’re planning to stay permanently in the United States or just want to find (and maintain) work opportunities in this country, there some general guidelines to consider.

The most common document many immigrants are familiar with is the green card. A green card holder (permanent resident) is someone who has been granted authorization to live and work in the United States. But there are also other options (and complications) for immigrants working in the US.

Alien commuter status vs. permanent resident status

A green card is essential if you have long-term plans to live and work in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: “As proof of that status [being a green card holder], a person is granted a permanent resident card, commonly called a ‘Green Card.’ You can become a permanent resident several different ways. Most individuals are sponsored by a family member or employer in the United States. Other individuals may become permanent residents through refugee or asylee status or other humanitarian programs. In some cases, you may be eligible to file for yourself.”

For those who might not need the permanent resident status of a green card, alien commuter status might work best. A commuter green card (also called an alien commuter green card) provides another option for immigrants if they want to keep their ties to home, as it allows you to work in the United States while having a primary residence in another country.

Qualifications for a green card

To qualify for a green card, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the following needs to happen:

you must be eligible for one of the immigrant categories established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), you need to have a qualifying immigrant petition filed, an immigrant visa must be immediately available, and you must be admissible to the United States. Also, parents, spouses, and unmarried children (under 21) of a US citizen may qualify. If you are a refugee or have asylum status, you may also qualify for a Green Card. These qualifications might be considered on a case by case basis.

Qualifications for alien commuter status

To qualify for alien commuter status you will need to obtain permanent residency (usually obtained through an employment-based or family-based sponsorship). Consistent work in the United States is also necessary. You may reside in Canada or Mexico, but your employment must be based in the US.

Restrictions (on home country)

Although a green card and alien commuter status cover situations most immigrants might face, there are some restrictions to be aware of.

An alien commuter green card must be extended every six months with a letter from your US employer. Marriage to a US citizen will also not affect your green card status.

If you do not keep continuous employment, you may also be at risk of losing your alien commuter status. Consequently, you must maintain regular employment for six months or more, or you could lose your commuter status. In certain cases, if you have lost a job through no fault of your own (a lay off, or lack of work) an exception might be made.

Rights in the United States

As a holder of either a green card or alien commuter status, you have certain rights. Namely, you are protected by all US laws as well as your state and any applicable local laws. You are also expected to follow those laws. Any crime committed might be just cause to remove you under immigration law.

A green card holder may petition for family members to have permanent status. However, a commuter alien cannot petition for family members until they reside in the United States.

Possible tax implications

As a green card holder (and a permanent resident), you are responsible for paying taxes. You will be required to file a 1040 form.

For an immigrant, working in the U.S. has its own advantages and disadvantages depending upon the type of documentation you have. Any changes in your status should be immediately reported to the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service).

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