Do You Need to File an I-131 "Travel Document" Application?

Depending on your current status, you might need to file for a reentry permit, advance parole, or a Refugee Travel Document, before you leave the United States.

By , Attorney

Many foreign nationals must file Form I-131 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order to obtain a proper travel document before going abroad. Doing so helps protect their ability to return to the United States. The three types of travel documents that someone can obtain using this form are:

  1. a Reentry Permit for permanent residents (green card holders) taking trips that will last longer than one year (valid for two years for the first two permits, then one year for the third and subsequent permits)
  2. a Refugee Travel Document for refugees and asylees (valid for one year), and
  3. Advance parole, for various other foreign nationals, particularly those with pending immigration applications (such as for adjustment of status) or some temporary right to remain in the U.S. that doesn't come with travel privileges (such as DACA). An Advance parole document is typically valid for one or two years.

Do Green Card Holders Need a Travel Document?

Although U.S. permanent residents are typically permitted to travel freely in and out of the country, and they need only present a valid green card upon return, something called a "reentry permit" is necessary if the travel outside the U.S. will last longer than one year. People who've been granted permanent resident status, are expected to actually live in the United States. The reentry permit serves to establish that despite the long stay abroad, they did not intend to give up residence there.

Even with the reentry permit, however, a green card holder's travel outside the U.S. must not exceed two years for the first two reentry permits. Thereafter, if the person is still abroad, the stay must not exceed one year.

Complications arising from travel outside the U.S. can also arise, even with a reentry or other travel permit, if:

  • you are a permanent resident and you establish a residence (make your home) outside the U.S., even if your travel does not exceed one year or your travel document remains valid, or
  • you are a refugee or asylee and you travel to your home country, thereby availing yourself of the protection of the government of that country and implying that you did not need the United States's protection after all.

You can find more information about maintaining your permanent resident status in Abandonment of Residence by U.S. Green Card Holders.

Do I Need to Get Advance Parole If I Have a Pending I-485 (Am Awaiting Adjustment of Status Interview)?

Although someone who has filed a USCIS Form I-485 application and is awaiting an adjustment of status interview is legally in the United States, and hopefully on the way to green card approval, leaving the U.S. without advance parole will destroy that. Your application to USCIS would be canceled, and you would not be permitted reentry to the United States. (See further discussion of related issues below.)

I'm in the U.S. in Valid Nonimmigrant Status and Have a Pending I-485. Do I Still Need to File Form I-131?

Yes, probably. It's a good question, since you're probably thinking, "I don't need a separate document to reenter the U.S., I already have one here." But realize that part of the purpose of getting Advance Parole before departing is to assure USCIS that you are not abandoning your adjustment of status application.

There are, however, exceptions to the travel document requirement for a few temporary visa holders, including:

All foreign nationals who are exempt from obtaining a travel document must present one of the above unexpired visas upon return to the United States.

Do I Have to Wait for USCIS to Approve My I-131 Application Before I Leave the U.S.?

Maybe. If you're applying for a Reentry Permit or Refugee Travel Document, departing the U.S. before your I-131 application is approved will not affect the decision and you may designate a U.S. consulate or embassy or USCIS office abroad where you would like to pick up the document.

However, if you are required to undergo fingerprinting (biometrics), you must do so upon notification by the USCIS before departing the U.S., or your application could be denied.

If you are applying for advance parole for the first time based upon a pending I-485 Application to Adjust Status, you need to remain in the U.S. until USCIS approves the parole application. If you are renewing advance parole and still have a valid parole document, you might be able to travel while the renewal application is pending, but you would need to return to the U.S. before your existing parole expires.

USCIS often changes its policies and practices concerning travel while an application for advance parole is pending, so be sure to check with an immigration attorney to help you navigate this tricky area of the adjustment of status process.

Will a Travel Document Prevent an Unlawful Presence Reentry Bar?

No. Consult an attorney before leaving the U.S. if you have an unlawful presence problem (as described below) and are in the process of obtaining a green card or other regularization of your immigration status.

Under most circumstances, unlawful presence in the U.S. of more than 180 days triggers a three-year bar to readmission (starting on the date of departure) and unlawful presence of more than one year triggers a ten-year bar to readmission. The Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.) has held that leaving the U.S with a valid advance parole document does NOT trigger these time bars, but this was not the way it used to work—and this is an evolving area of the law, so you'll want to double check with this holding has been changed by the time you are ready to travel.

If you are required to obtain a waiver of inadmissibility before leaving the U.S. (in which you request that U.S. immigration authorities forgive or overlook the ground of inadmissibility), this must be made on USCIS Form I-601. It requires submitting extensive proof of how you qualify for the waiver and why you deserve it. Even if you qualify, the granting of such waivers is always discretionary and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Because of the consequences of unlawful presence and the many other dangers associated with departing and reentering the U.S., all of which cannot possibly be enumerated here, you should consult an immigration attorney to assist you in evaluating your status before filing your application and definitely before taking off on your trip outside the United States.

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