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What is a combo card, and why did USCIS stop issuing them?

By June 15, 2022Immigration
A woman asking a question during a work meeting

Eligible individuals have the option to apply for a green card from within the United States, through a process called adjustment of status. The application to adjust status is called a Form I-485, and it must be accompanied by an additional form that establishes the basis on which the applicant qualifies for the green card. This is typically either a Form I-130 (if applying for a green card through family), I-140 (if applying for a green card through employment), or I-526 (if applying for a green card based on investment).

Filing the Form I-485 application to adjust status, however, does not give the applicant the ability to travel or work in the United States. For that, the applicant must file the Form I-765 application for work authorization, and the Form I-131 application for advance parole for travel authorization. If the green card applicant leaves the U.S. before receiving travel authorization, their adjustment of status application will be abandoned.

What is a combo card?

Starting in 2011, when an adjustment of status applicant filed both the I-765 and I-131 at the same time, USCIS has issued a single card that serves as both work and travel authorization. This card is called a “combo card.” The combo card looks a lot like a work permit (also called an an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or Form I-766), but it has an additional note on the bottom of the card that says “serves as I-512 advance parole.” This note allowed the holder of the card to travel in and out of the U.S. while their adjustment of status application was pending with USCIS. USCIS would typically issue the card for one to two years.

Does USCIS still issue combo cards?

As of April 2022, USCIS has stopped issuing combo cards. Instead, USCIS will now send those who apply for both work and travel authorization separate work and travel documents. The regular EAD continues to be in the form of a plastic card, however it typically has the annotation “not valid for reentry to U.S.” printed at the bottom of it. This card only permits the holder to work – and not to travel – during the validity period of the card.

Those whose Form I-131 application for advance parole is approved will, instead of receiving a combo card, receive a paper document titled a Form I-512 Authorization for Parole. It is this document, and not the EAD, that gives the holder the ability to travel in and out of the U.S. while their adjustment of state application is pending with USCIS.

It is critical to remember that the EAD card alone will not allow the applicant to travel and re-enter the United States. You must carry your separate travel document in order to do so.

Why did USCIS stop issuing combo cards?

USCIS has suggested that it has stopped issuing combo cards in order to reduce the significant backlog for work authorization applications. As a result of both the Covid pandemic and government policies, the amount of time that is required for USCIS to adjudicate an EAD application has reached extreme lengths, sometimes requiring one year or longer. These delays have understandably caused interruptions in employment for applicants. Since the EAD and travel authorization are now issued separately, applicants are expected to now receive their EAD card before their travel document.

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