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Emergency Travel with a Pending Green Card Application

Worldwide travel displayed as landmarks for many countries and cities

For most green card applicants, once they file an I-485 application to adjust status it becomes more complicated to travel internationally, as they must wait in the U.S. until U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) issues a travel document. If you have an emergency and must travel before your travel document has been issued, you can apply for an emergency travel document at a local USCIS field office or ask USCIS for an expedited approval of your I-131 application.

Why do I need to obtain a travel document before leaving the U.S.?

If you are in the United States and have a pending I-485 Application to Adjust to Permanent Residence, the general rule is that you cannot travel outside the U.S. unless you have received a travel authorization document from U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. If you travel internationally and you do not obtain the correct travel document first, your green card application will be abandoned. There are limited exceptions to this rule for certain applicants with H, L & K visas.

How long will it take to get my travel document?

When you file the I-485 application to adjust status, you may also file Form I-131, Application for a Travel Document, also known as advance parole. Processing times vary, but it is currently taking several months for USCIS to approve these applications. Once the application is approved, you will be mailed a travel document that you must carry with you. When you return to the U.S., you will likely be taken to secondary inspection where they will parole you into the U.S. on the basis of the pending adjustment of status.

What are my options if I have an emergency and I have to travel?

If you have to travel and your advance parole application is not yet approved, you have the following options:

  • Contact the USCIS contact center to arrange an appointment at a local USCIS field office. When attending this appointment you will need to bring the completed I-131 application with required photos and filing fees, as well as compelling evidence to support your emergency travel request. For example, if you need to travel because a close family member is extremely ill, you could bring evidence of their medical records and letters from their doctors to support the urgency of the request.
  • File an expedite request with USCIS on the pending application. Another option is to contact USCIS and ask them to expedite your pending travel application. USCIS will ask you to explain the reason for the expedite and may follow up with a request for documents to support your application. If you expedite request is approved they will send you an email and/or letter to let you know. You should not travel until you have actually received the travel document.

If you cannot obtain an emergency travel document and USCIS rejects your request for an expedite you may still travel, but your I-485 green card application will be considered abandoned.

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