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Can I Travel While My Green Card is Processing?

OK, so you are getting ready to submit your green card application to the US government. This is a major milestone in your life. You have finally reached the moment where your preparation is done and the waiting begins. The question that you have is will you be able to travel back home to visit family while you wait. Or will you finally be able to go on that exotic honeymoon that you have been planning for months. You know that the US government can take on average 7-9 months to process basic adjustment of status green card applications and you want to know if you are going to be locked in the US until the process is finished.

“Can I travel while my green card application is being processed?” is a very common question with a very complicated answer. The most true answer is technically “Yes” but travel at your own risk. It all depends on whether or not you have submitted USCIS Form I-131, Authorization for Travel document or re-entry permit, or advance parole travel document. If you submit the Form I-131 with your green card application and it is approved by the USCIS you are essentially authorized to travel in and out of the US while your green card is being processed.

Yes & No

I know what you are thinking. “Essentially? Either you can travel or you can’t. If it is approved, then I am good to go right?” Not so fast. The weird thing about traveling outside the US after you have submitted an adjustment of status green card application is that you have technically abandoned whatever visa status you enter the United States on. Once that happens you are technically in limbo until the green card application has either been approved or denied. If your Form I-131, Authorization for Travel document is approved and you leave the country, you could potentially have difficulties re-entering the US.

When you arrive at the airport, whether you can enter the United States or not is ultimately at the discretion of the cheerful U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. Yes, you read that correctly. Even though you have the document from the US Government stating that you are authorized to travel while your green card application is processing, they still can technically deny you entry.

What is happening is that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection sees that you have left the United States while your green card application is processing and assumes that you don’t really care about getting a green card and have abandoned your “pending I-485” case. Although it may be rare, it is enough of a concern for most immigration attorneys to tell their clients to hold off on any travel plans until the green card has been approved and issued.

You Really Should be in the U.S.

The other complicated issue is that after you submit your green card application, you will need to go to your local USCIS office for fingerprinting. The fingerprinting appointment is scheduled by the USCIS and they are not very good at rescheduling. If you are traveling abroad when you get the notice for the fingerprinting appointment, it could be difficult to return back to the US in time to make the appointment.

Even after the fingerprinting is scheduled and done, you will be scheduled for an interview with a USCIS officer. This interview is in person and arguably the most important moment in the process of getting a green card. The USCIS will be sending you a letter in the mail informing you of the date and time of the interview. Rene Kang, attorney at the Law Offices of Jacob Sapochnick explains, “People want to leave before they even get the interview notice, which makes me nervous because there’s no telling when it’ll come, notices can get lost in the mail, and even though the interview notice is weeks before the interview date, if people are outside for an extended period of time, they can risk missing it. It’s not common, but I’m not sure how people can risk doing that.

[clickToTweet tweet=”If you miss your USCIS interview appointment you could cause some serious problems.” quote=”If you miss your USCIS fingerprinting or interview appointment you could cause some serious problems.”]

Immigration Attorneys Can Help You Plan

In the end, every situation is different. These are guidelines and basic rules to follow. I am not an immigration attorney and none of this article should be taken as legal advice. The good news is that Jacob Sapochnick is one of the best immigration attorneys in the country. If you have any questions about this topic or a big trip that you are planning for the same time as your green card application, please contact him here. Immigration attorneys are very good at advising you on the timing and planning of any travel while your green card application is being processed.

Updated on January 15, 2020

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  1. Can I travel to other states for a holiday while waiting for green card,my k1 fiancé visa expires on 03/20/2020 and I would like to visit other state while waiting for my green card. Is it possible?

  2. Hi Roksana, you can travel between states in the U.S. with your state-issued ID or your passport. You do not need an advance parole document to travel between states. Keep in mind traveling to Hawaii and Alaska if also fine, however, if your plane has to land outside of the U.S. for any reason, your green card application could be considered abandoned. Once you have your EAD/AP combo card, you can travel outside the U.S. while waiting for your green card.

  3. Hello, my mother is currently visiting in the US on a tourist visa, which allows her to stay in the country for up to 180 days. In her case that means she can stay here until July 11. I am naturalized citizen and was planning to file form I-130 for my mother in a near future. However, with Covid-19 outbreak we are concerned she might not be able to fly back (all flights are currently cancelled, and even if they are resumed it might not be safe to fly anyways). We don’t want her to stay past allowed 180 days so, we are considering filing I-130 now. My questions are:
    1. Does immigration office accept I-130 applications at this time?
    2. How did COVID -19 affect timelines for accepting applications, If filed now, will it be in process status before July 11?
    We live in Wisconsin.
    Thank you

    1. Alex, I am in the same boat as you. Except my mom should leave by the end of June. Did you got any answer to your question somewhere? I also think that if we apply for them, they would not be able to leave the US until they get a visa right? Please post if you found out something. I am at lost.

      1. You can file I 539 to extend visa for another 6 months.

      2. Liz and Alex, I have the same case with my mom right now, I am not sure if it is the right time to file for her GC or just and extension and start the GC process when she is back in our country. If we do the GC process now, she will have to go anyway to our country by the endof the year or after COVID flights are back to solve other issues there…Please ping here if you find more info.

  4. Hi there,
    I received my IR5 visa (expiring soon) to then get my greencard. Due to travel restrictions because of COVID can I go to guam as my port of entry to activate the green card (giving my intended US address) and go to the US immediately/shortly after or could I go back home immediately and fly to the US later while I’m waiting for the greencard to arrive?
    Many thanks!
    Hope you’re all keeping safe!

  5. Hi there,

    I received my IR5 visa to activate a greencard. My visa will be expiring soon and because of travel restrictions due to COVID I can’t get to the US. Can my port of entry be Guam? And can I leave Guam once I activate the greencard on arrival? or do i have to wait in Guam until i receive the physical card? Or can I give my intended US address when i enter Guam and fly to that state to wait for my greencard? or alternatively give the my intended US address and leave Guam to go back home before flying back to the US later?

    Many thanks,
    stay safe!

  6. Hi there
    Please help. Due to covid-19 crisis we might move out the country. I was waiting for my interview to be ready schedule since Feb. Is there any chance I can do the interview outside usa? What do I need to do?

    Thank you

  7. Hello,

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my grandmother had to postpone her travel back into the US. Consequently, her green card expired while abroad. However, during this time, her new green card DID arrive to her US address. She just currently does not have it in her possession.

    She has booked travel to come back into the US very soon (within 6 months of last leaving the US, of course), however, in her possession on her day of re-entry, she’ll have her expired* green card. Her family has her new* green card here. Will we be able to give it to her at a point of entry when she travels back to the US? Or should we find a way to get her new green card to her person by her re- entry date?

    THANK YOU for your assistance.

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