Can I Travel While I Wait For My Green Card?

Obtaining a Green Card through marriage is an exciting and life-changing experience. However, the process can be long and stressful, leaving applicants to wonder if they are allowed to travel within the USA and even abroad while waiting for their Green Card to be approved.

To prevent any negative consequences, it is crucial to have a good understanding of the requirements when planning to travel. We highly recommend seeking the help of a competent immigration attorney or online service like Alvva to guide you through the application process.

Failing to seek proper guidance could result in having to restart the process or, in the worst-case scenario, being denied entry into the United States for an extended period. In today’s article, we will explore the answer to this common question and offer valuable insights into some of the challenges that may arise while wanting/needing to travel and your Green Card application is still in progress.

Adjustment of Status vs Consular Processing

If you applied for an adjustment of status and it’s still pending, you have to be careful when making travel plans. Leaving the United States while the process is pending can result in an automatic abandonment of the application unless you have obtained advanced parole which serves as permission to travel. Advanced parole is only granted in limited circumstances but, applicants are advised to avoid international travel if they have a pending Adjustment of Status application. If there is an extreme emergency outside the United States, you can file an emergency Form I-131 application for advanced parole and support the coordination of travel.

If you applied for a Green Card through consular processing and are waiting for your visa to be issued, you can travel freely. Though you have the freedom to travel, you must take into consideration that the consulate might request additional or new evidence during the consular processing stage, and if you don’t meet the time frames set by the consulate, your application may be denied or rejected. If you have a valid visa to enter the United States while your Green Card application is in progress for consular processing, it is crucial to comply with the specific dates for your case. For example, make sure you don’t the exceed timeframe that your visa is valid, as doing so could void your application. Therefore, it is essential to stay within the visa expiration limits to avoid jeopardizing your process.

Travel Options While Awaiting Green Card Approval

To ensure you can re-enter the country after your trip, it is necessary to submit Form I-131, the Application for Travel Document. The most efficient approach is to include Form I-131 in your initial marriage Green Card application package. This form should be submitted alongside Form I-485 and Form I-130, accompanied by supporting documents such as a copy of your passport's photo page. By submitting the I-131 with your initial green card application, you won't incur any additional legal fees. The processing time for the I-131 is approximately ninety days from the date it is received by the USCIS. The USCIS will issue a travel authorization permit, also known as an Advance Parole Document, before you can leave the United States. It is important to always carry your advance parole document whenever you travel until you become a permanent resident. This document, along with other necessary travel documents, must be presented when entering or exiting the United States. If you fail to provide your advance parole, this may prevent you from entering or leaving the country. In case of an emergency, an emergency travel document with an expiration date can be obtained on the appropriate government websites, such as the USCIS website.

If you’re applying for residency via Consular Processing and are currently outside of the US while waiting for your Green Card to be approved, you can visit your spouse in the US with a tourist visa. The tourist visa is a type of nonimmigrant status visa that allows foreign nationals to stay temporarily within the United States for business, tourism, or both. If you have plans to wait for the approval of your immigrant visa application in the U.S., you have to apply for the K-3 visa meant for this purpose. If you have traveled on a K-3 visa, you have the opportunity to acquire a re-entry permit, which can be utilized freely and without limitations. This is one of the immigration advantages provided by the K-3 visa.

Re-entry Risks Involved While Traveling

It is important to remember that without the receipt notices from USCIS indicating that your application has started processing, there is no proof of the pending Green Card application. This means that when traveling within the US without a valid visa or status, there may be no evidence of legal status in the United States. Therefore, any interactions with a US immigration officer while traveling can carry the potential for complications. Extra caution should be exercised when traveling outside of the United States to non-continental US territories or states (ex: Hawaii or Puerto Rico). If an emergency landing or layover occurs in a non-US territory or country, USCIS would consider the applicant to have left the United States, resulting in the abandonment of the Green Card application.

When returning to the United States after international travel, it ultimately depends on the US Customs and Border Protection agent's discretion to allow entry. Despite having been granted Advanced Parole and possessing a valid travel authorization document, re-entry can still be denied by US Customs and Border Protection. Therefore, travel authorization does not guarantee entry into the United States. While re-entry issues are uncommon, there is always a risk involved. This risk can be minimized by adhering to laws and regulations and avoiding any activities that could jeopardize your ability to reenter the United States.

Biometrics, Additional Requests, and Interview with USCIS

After submitting a Green Card application, USCIS will send a notice with a scheduled biometrics appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC). This notice, known as Form I-797C, includes the date, time, and location of the ASC appointment. If you are traveling abroad on a dual-intent visa when you receive the biometrics appointment notice, it could be challenging to return to the United States in time for the appointment and rescheduling can be difficult.

Another thing to take into consideration is that additional information may be required for an application. When this occurs, USCIS issues a "Request for Evidence" (RFE) letter. The RFE letter outlines the necessary documentation and specifies a deadline for submission. Failure to respond to the RFE by the deadline will result in the denial of the application. If you are planning to travel abroad while your application is pending, be aware that if you receive an RFE while away, you must respond before the deadline to avoid application denial.

The last thing to take into consideration would be your USCIS interview. In the months following the biometrics appointment, USCIS will schedule an in-person interview with an officer. USCIS will send an appointment notice (Form I-797C) containing the interview date, time, and location. You mustn’t miss this appointment. If you are traveling abroad when you receive the interview appointment notice, returning to the US in time for the appointment could prove challenging and can impact your final result.

Safely Traveling with a Pending Green Card Application

Traveling while awaiting Green Card approval carries inherent risks and potential complications. It is crucial to stay informed and follow all laws and regulations to prevent delays or rejections in the application process. By staying updated on USCIS notices, ensuring proper documentation, and seeking guidance from expert sources like Alvva, you can better minimize risks, maintain legal status, and increase the chances of success. Stay informed, be cautious, and prioritize compliance to navigate the travel journey smoothly while awaiting approval.

Considering the potential complications and risks associated with traveling without a valid visa or status during the pending Green Card application process, Alvva may be a valuable option to guide you before you decide to travel. Alvva offers convenient service options through WhatsApp, email, and phone calls. Alvva offers a highly affordable alternative compared to traditional immigration lawyers' offices, which can save thousands. Additionally, Alvva provides services in both English and Spanish. By utilizing Alvva's services, individuals can ensure they have proper documentation and guidance throughout the application process, minimizing the potential for complications. Start your free consultation today.