I'm at my wit's end and cannot find a straight answer to my question. I am getting conflicting info from the Embassy, from the DHS, and from an immigration officer I spoke to in Detroit.
Here is our situation. I am a USA citizen, my wife is Japanese. We've been married for 10 years. We moved to the USA and lived there in 2003 and she got her green card. In 2008, with the economy crashing, we moved back to Japan temporarily to pursue a job there. We kept our house and rented it out, kept our bank accounts active, etc. We stayed longer than we intended; three years. I got bad info from the embassy on how to re-enter the USA (they said she should just register with ESTA and come in on a tourist exemption), and when we came back in the summer of 2011 my wife was briefly detained and questioned. We paid the green card fee and had it renewed. So far so good.
We intended to return in March of this year (2012) but ended up extending our contract with our company another year. Our current plan is to return to the USA, for good, in March or April of 2013.
Now, here's the problem. We were told by the immigration officials in Detroit (where we landed last summer) that if we decided to stay out for more than a year this time, we could simply apply for an extension permit online. That doesn't seem to be the case- I read that you can only apply from the USA.
Since my wife can re-enter the USA within a one-year window of getting her card renewed (August of '11), we're wondering if it's acceptable / allowable to simply take a short trip to the USA (say, fly to LA or Hawaii or Guam) this July, stay for a week, and then go back to Japan, returning as planned in spring of 2013. But I've read from other sources that short trips like this don't "count" for re-entering the USA.
My question is: Will the one-week trip do the trick? If yes, will Guam work or does it have to be within the 50 states?
If the one-week trip is not acceptable, then what can we do instead? The immigration officers were sympathetic last time we came because we had bad information from the embassy. I don't want to push our luck again. I want to do this right, but there is so much conflicting and confusing information about what forms we need, what works, and what doesn't. I am extremely reluctant to call the embassy (they charged us $29 and gave us advice that almost got my wife arrested). Can anyone out there just give me the facts?
Thank you all so much in advance!