When applying for a Green card, an applicant also has the opportunity to apply for Travel Authorization by filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. When filed along with the green card, this travel authorization–commonly also called “Advance Parole”–may take between 9-12 months, on average, to be adjudicated by USCIS. Due to this processing time, you may wonder what limitations there are on traveling while your green card application is pending. This article will explore some of those limitations.
The purpose of this article is NOT to provide legal advice but rather to provide legal information regarding the Travel Authorization/Advance Parole document. Anyone seeking legal advice on whether or not they should travel while their green card is pending is encouraged to discuss it with a licensed immigration attorney.
Before Travel Authorization is Granted
Traveling inside the US Before Travel Authorization is Granted
Before USCIS grants the Travel Authorization/Advance Parole document, an immigrant can typically travel within the continental US while their green card application is still pending.
However, something to keep in mind is that until an applicant has received their receipt notices from USCIS confirming that USCIS has started processing their application, an applicant will not have proof of their pending green card application. This means that if they are traveling inside the US without a valid visa or status, they may not have proof of having legal status in the United States. Because of this, any interactions with US immigration while traveling presents the potential for issues.
Additionally, an applicant will want to be very cautious if traveling outside of the United States to non-continental US territories or states (such as Hawaii or Puerto Rico). In the case of an emergency landing or layover in a non-US territory or country, USCIS would consider that applicant as having left the United States, and the green card application would be considered abandoned.
Traveling outside the US Before Travel Authorization is Granted
After submitting a green card application, an applicant may only be authorized to leave the country and reenter the US once they have received the Travel Authorization/Advance Parole document. While this does not apply to certain dual-intent visas (such as the H1B or L1 visas)*, this does not apply to green card applicants whose non-immigrant visas previously allowed for travel. Non-immigrant visas (such as F1, TN, or B1/B2) are not authorized to travel outside the United States until their Form I-131, Application to Travel, has been approved. Doing so would result in the green card application being denied and could lead to misrepresentation investigations.
*NOTE: While some dual-intent visas allow for continued travel while a green card application is pending, traveling on a dual-intent visa before the Advance Parole/Travel Authorization is approved likely means that USCIS will deny Form I-131 and will not grant Advance Parole.
Overall, it can be beneficial for an applicant wishing to travel internationally to wait until USCIS has granted them Travel Authorization before they travel outside the United States. If this travel authorization is pending, an applicant would need to consider whether they have a valid document that will allow for their re-entry into the US and whether they accept the potential repercussions of abandoning their pending application and subsequent denial of the Green Card.
Navigating Travel after Travel Authorization/Advance Parole is Granted–But While the Green Card application is Still Pending
Currently, the average wait time for the Travel Authorization/Advance Parole document adjudication is around 9-12 months, while the Green Card application itself may take anywhere from 12-24 months to be approved. Due to these timelines, USCIS will likely grant an applicant’s travel authorization while the Green Card application is still pending approval.
When USCIS issues the Travel Authorization/Advance Parole document, an applicant is essentially authorized to travel in and out of the US while their green card is still being processed. However, after this travel authorization has been approved, there is still some risk that an applicant could experience difficulties re-entering the US or miss important USCIS notices while they are out of the country. This article will discuss these potential risks in greater detail below.
Risks of traveling While a Green Card application is pending
Risks During Re-entry
After international travel, re-entry into the United States is ultimately at the discretion of the US Customs and Border Protection agent, who inspects upon arrival. This means that even if someone has been granted Advanced Parole and has a valid travel authorization document, US Customs and Border Protection can still technically deny their re-entry. Thus, travel authorization does not guarantee entry into the United States.
While generally, there are no issues re-entering, there is always a risk. These cases are not typical, and you can diminish risk by following laws and regulations and not committing crimes that could jeopardize your ability to reenter the United States.
Risks of missing time-sensitive USCIS notices while traveling
The Biometrics Appointment
In the weeks after someone submits a green card application, USCIS will mail them a notice with a scheduled biometrics appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC). The appointment notice (Form I-797C, Notice of Action) will include the date, time, and location for the ASC appointment. It is recommended that this appointment is attended whenever possible, as it can be challenging to reschedule.
If you are traveling abroad on a dual-intent visa when you get the notice for the biometrics appointment, it could be challenging to return to the United States in time to make the appointment.
Notices for Requests for Evidence
When USCIS needs more information for a case, they issue a “Request for Evidence” (commonly called an RFE). The RFE letter comes in the mail, and USCIS typically outlines what documentation must be submitted and issues a deadline by which they must receive that information. They specify that the applicant must submit the requested documents to them before that deadline. Cases that do not respond to the RFE by that deadline will have their green card application denied.
Applicants wishing to travel abroad while the green card application is pending will want to be aware that if they receive an RFE while they are away, they will need to respond to the RFE before the deadline or risk having their application denied.
The Green Card Interview with USCIS
In the months after completing your biometrics, USCIS will schedule an interview with a USCIS officer. This interview is conducted in person and is arguably the most important moment in the process of getting a green card. USCIS will mail you an appointment notice (Form I-797C, Notice of Action) which will include the date, time, and location for your interview. It is critical that applicants don’t miss this appointment. Be aware that, in some cases, USCIS can schedule the appointment within weeks of issuing the notice. If you are traveling abroad when you get the notice for the interview appointment, it could be challenging to return to the US in time to make the appointment.
Partner Immigration Attorneys Can Help You Plan
Navigating Travel while a Green Card application is pending presents many nuanced situations. If you have any questions about this topic or how this applies to your specific situation/visa, consider signing up for SimpleCitizen’s Professional Package–which allows you to discuss your questions and concerns with one of our independent partner Immigration Attornies.
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Can I use my dual intent visa (H1B or L1) to travel while my green card is pending?
If someone has proof of a valid dual-intent visa, they can travel while the green card is pending without the risk of USCIS deeming their case as abandoned. However, this does not apply to the O visa. Please refer to this article for more information about travel with an H1B visa.
Can I travel using my K-1 visa?
The K visa serves as a single entry visa, meaning that once someone enters the US, they cannot use that visa again to leave and reenter the US. Instead, they would need to consider waiting for the travel authorization or the green card to be granted.
Since an O-1B visa is considered dual intent, can someone use it to travel while they wait on travel authorization through their adjustment of status application?
The O-1 visa is a dual-intent visa in the context of visa approval but not in the context of travel authorization. As such, USCIS will consider that someone traveling abroad on an O visa while the green card application is pending (and before the travel authorization has not been granted) has abandoned the green card application, and this application will be denied.