Common sense might tell you that traveling to and from the United States just before your greencard is issued should be easier then at the beginning of your immigration journey. At this point you have been “through” the immigration system every which way, so you probably assume that any problems have already been handled and are now behind you. However, traveling while your I-485 is pending requires extra planning and additional caution because being stranded abroad at this point can be disastrous! If something goes awry it means you may be separated from family, your employer and visa sponsor, and of course the cost to make emergency plans can be enormous. Planning before you travel is crucial.
As a quick reminder, the I-485, “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status,” is the application filed with the United State Citizenship and Immigration Services that, if granted, adjusts your temporary nonimmigrant status to that of a permanent resident of the United States.
Many people believe that once their I-485 is filed and pending they no longer need their nonimmigrant status – i.e., H-1B status – because they are now “pending adjustment” to permanent residence. This is wrong! The I-485 can provide additional benefits to you, like an Advanced Parole that acts as a “visa” or travel document, and even an Employment Authorization Document (EAD / work permit). However, the I-485 is not a cure-all and you should always consult your immigration attorney before making any travel plans while the I-485 is pending. I repeat, call before you make the plans! You immigration planning should include:
- Apply for your I-131 Advance Parole early! When I am asked the question, can I travel while my I-485 is pending? The answer is yes – with proper planning. The I-485 itself does not provide you with any “status” in the United States. Two companion applications, the EAD and Advanced Parole, can allow you to work and travel based on the I-485. Be sure to apply early for the AP, because the travel document must be approved before you depart the United States. See here for processing times. Departing the U.S. while the I-485 is pending without an approved Advanced Parole can result in the denial of your I-485, and you may be denied re-entry to the U.S. unless you have another means of entry.
- Keep your nonimmigrant status valid. However, having an approved Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, does not mean you can travel without worry. The I-131 approval acts like a “visa” and permits you to apply for admission to the Unites States so long as the parole remains valid. If the I-485 is denied while you are traveling, the companion Advanced Parole may also be denied, and you will be unable to return to the United States. This is why it is very important to maintain your nonimmigrant status until your I-485 is approved, as it may be needed in an emergency.
Some people are comfortable gambling with their greencard progress, and I have never understood why. Many will have paid thousands of dollars over the course of their temporary residence, leading up to the greencard, only to find themselves stranded abroad because they decided everything will be “OK” since they are “so close” to the greencard. Experience tells us that this is not the case! Even if you have never had a problem before, that does not mean you should gamble now.