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I'm a 30+-year-old engineer. I have been living in the US for 2 years and just got a green card (my employer is really nice).

I'm thinking of doing a PhD (a lifelong checkbox) and I started to apply everywhere, including in Europe. Ideally I would like to do my PhD there, keep the green card and work in the US after, but I wonder if anyone successfully did it?

I initially thought of coming back a week every year but I have read that this doesn't guarantee anything, and I have to prove that the returns were temporary and you still have ties with the US. Is a PhD temporary since it is "fixed" in length?

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Plan A: For a European-style research PhD, you’d need to be abroad for at least 3 years, assuming you already have your MSc. A reentry permit is needed for extended stays abroad but they are only good for two years maximum. It’s also unlikely they’ll give you one so you can take a leave from your work to study, it’s really designed for folks who have a family emergency in their home country.

Assuming you got a reentry permit, you could only really do the PhD if you structured your research fieldwork in the USA, so that you only had to go to Europe to check in with your advisors but many or most programs won’t like that you never are in residence.

Plan B: You could do your PhD in the USA but do the research portion in the EU. That way your time abroad would be under 2 years.

Plan C: You could naturalize.... but this would be playing a longer term game.

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    Given the recent acquisition of the green card, plan C seems unlikely to be practical in this case, though it would certainly be a likely solution for others. – phoog Aug 11 '18 at 11:55

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