If you have filed your green card application with USCIS, you are probably asking yourself whether you can travel internationally (yes we mean Mexico too) while your application is in process. After all, filing the green card application is admittedly a stressful process for both the applicant and petitioner. Accomplishing this achievement is worth celebrating. To reward yourself you may be aching to celebrate your newfound immigration status by going on holiday or taking that important business trip you and your business partners have been discussing.
Travel Authorization for Re-entry
Not so fast!! You cannot travel internationally unless you have received a travel authorization document from USCIS, known as an advance parole document. You are required to obtain such travel authorization if you seek to re-enter the United States after temporary foreign travel. To do so, you must file Form I-131 Application for Travel Document with USCIS. For applicants filing a green card application based on their marriage to a U.S. Citizen, the I-485 and I-131 application is typically filed concurrently. There is no fee for the I-131 application if it is submitted along with Form I-485. It takes approximately 90 days, from the date the I-131 application is received, for USCIS to issue this travel authorization. Once the travel authorization is received, it would no longer be worth traveling outside of the country, because applicants typically receive their “interview notice” in the mail during this time frame. The interview notice will contain the date, time, and location of the green card interview and require the applicant to be physically present in the United States. In emergency situations, it is possible to reschedule the green card interview although this will obviously delay receipt of the green card.
Emergency Expedite Requests
Although it is possible to request an expedited advance parole document in emergency situations, there are important reasons why you should not do so. Firstly, the process for expediting an advance parole document is extremely difficult. You must have a legitimate reason for making an expedite request. Attending a business conference, your best friend’s wedding, or going on your honeymoon are not legitimate reasons for making an expedite request. Even in emergency situations such as the death or serious illness of a relative, we have seen immigration officers repeatedly deny expedite requests. Secondly, you are required to be physically present in the United States in order to attend your biometrics appointment for fingerprinting (within 3-4 weeks of filing the green card application) and later to attend your in person green card interview before an immigration officer (within 3-4 months of filing your application).
Taking these factors into consideration, it is important for applicants to plan accordingly. Never make any travel commitments until you have at least received your travel authorization/advance parole document from USCIS. Keep in mind that you will be required to return to the United States in order to attend your in person green card interview. If you do not appear on your scheduled interview date your application will be denied. Do not let this happen to you.
Applicants must keep in mind that a re-entry permit does not guarantee them re-entry into the United States. Granting a foreign national re-entry will ultimately be up to the discretion of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer at the port of entry. This disclosure will appear on the back of your advance parole document. Although it is highly unlikely that this situation would occur, it is a possibility. If it is not necessary for you to travel internationally, it is always best to delay travel until you have received your green card.
Green card abandonment
If you leave the United States while your application is awaiting a decision from USCIS, your application will be considered abandoned, and in most cases you will be required to refile your application upon your return to the United States. This is a burdensome process that will require you to re-submit all of the same paperwork again, repay the immigration fees, and re-obtain the required medical documents. Doing so will waste your valuable time and money.
Plan the Timing of your Green Card Application
In order to prevent this situation from occurring, it is important for an applicant to openly discuss their lifestyle and needs with their attorney, before proceeding with the green card application. For example, filing the adjustment of status application from the United States may not be the best option for a foreign national that operates a business, or a person that has employment obligations that require international travel. Instead, we recommend that these foreign nationals apply for an immigrant visa from outside of the United States, through a process known as consular processing. Although consular processing is a more complex and lengthy immigration process (approximately 8-12 months), the advantage of this process is that the applicant is not restricted from international travel while their immigrant visa application is pending. Alternatively, your attorney can also help you plan the filing of your green card application so that your future travel plans are unaffected.