The travel document allows someone living in the United States to travel while waiting for the green card without canceling their application.
The complete process for a marriage green card generally takes between 10 and 13 months for spouses of US citizens residing in the United States. They mail their application package to the day they receive their card residence by mail. For spouses of green card holders, this process can take almost three years.
This is a long time without leaving the United States, especially if you have family or business ties abroad or if you want to travel. But don’t get confused:
Your green card application will be voided if you leave the United States while your application is pending unless you have a valid travel document when you leave the country.
Even if you don’t have any specific travel plans, it is a good idea to apply for a travel document simultaneously as you submit your application for a marriage green card. So if you need to travel for a family emergency, business opportunity, or any other reason, you won’t need to decline the trip because of your pending green card application.
Why do you need a travel document?
The travel document provides a person residing in the United States with an “advance parole.” This has nothing to do with the term “parole” you hear in a chapter of “Law and Order.”
Suppose you leave the United States while your green card application is pending, and you do not have a travel document. In that case, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will consider your application abandoned and reject it.
In the best of cases, that means you will have to go through all the paperwork and pay the fees a second time. In the worst case, you may find yourself unable to re-enter the United States.
When and how to request a travel document
The easiest, fastest, and most affordable way to apply for a travel document is to include it in the original green card application package that you will send to USCIS and add form I-131 (“travel document application”) along with the primary forms ( I-130 and I-485 ).
You must also include a copy of photo identification (such as a copy of your passport’s first page) along with the travel document application and two passport-size photographs.
You do not have to pay an additional fee if you submit your application for the travel document (Form I-131) at the same time as your initial application for the green card.
Suppose you have already submitted your application for a green card. In that case, you can obtain a travel document that will allow you to leave the United States without paying an additional fee. In this case, when you file Form I-131 with USCIS, include a copy of your photo identification document, two passport-size photos, and a copy of the USCIS acknowledgment of receipt stating that the entity has received your application to the green card, including the government fee associated with that application.
Travel restrictions and renewal of your travel document
You mustn’t leave the United States until you have received your travel document. Still, there are no travel restrictions for applicants for matrimonial green cards. However, you can only be outside the United States until your travel document expires, and you will need to re-enter the country before that date.
The travel document is valid for one year from issuance, generally within 150 days (in some cases longer) after you have submitted the application materials to USCIS. (Until recently, the average time to process a travel document was 90 days, but an increasing delay has caused additional delays. USCIS provides a database where you can check the most recent processing times, updated once a month)
If you have not received your green card yet and are planning a trip after the year has passed, you must promptly renew your travel document. You can submit a renewal request up to 120 days before your record expires, preferably submit the renewal as soon as possible. The travel document’s renewal is usually processed in the same period as the initial application: 150 days or more. It is essential to plan to avoid gaps in your ability to travel.
To renew your travel document, submit Form I-131 along with a copy of your current travel document, a copy of the receipt notice for your green card application, and two passport-size photographs. There is no additional fee.
You can get an expedited travel document if you must travel due to an emergency. USCIS issues emergency travel documents in situations such as the sudden death or illness of a family member abroad. If you find yourself in this situation, you can make an appointment at your local USCIS office. You must carry the completed I-131 form, two passport-size photographs, and evidence to prove that you have an urgency to travel. This evidence can be a death certificate, medical records, or a letter signed by your relative’s doctor. There are no additional fees to obtain an emergency travel document.
Planning your trip
Typically, you will obtain your document within 150 days (often longer) of presenting an application. You cannot leave the country until you have your travel document approved. In hand, so I expected to be in the United States for 3 to 5 months immediately after submitting your green card application.
In theory, you can be outside the United States as long as you have a travel document (one year plus renewals). However, this is not possible in practice because you would miss your appointment to obtain biometric data and the interview for the residence card. If you know that you will not keep appointments (to get biometrics or the interview), you must follow the instructions to reschedule the meetings, as described in the USCIS statement regarding your consultation.
In general, it is a good idea to arrange to be notified if you receive any USCIS communications sent to you while you are abroad. (For example, you can ask a friend or neighbor to tell you about any USCIS communication you receive in the mail.)
you can return to the United States with a travel document
You can return to the United States with a travel document.
It is quite common for people with travel documents to be put aside for secondary inspection. Don’t be alarmed if that happens; the border agent is likely simply verifying that you have a pending green card application.
Travel documents do not guarantee that the border agent will allow you to re-enter the United States. If you have any reason to suspect that you may be rejected at the border, you should carefully consider whether you need to travel before your green card application is approved.
For example, if you have been in the United States for any amount of time without legal immigration status, then leaving the United States, in most cases, will trigger a ban on entering the United States for three or ten years, depending on how long you were in the United States without status. If you find yourself in this situation, it is a good idea to limit travel until you have your green card.
In short, there are no downsides to applying for a travel document at the same time as you submit your green card application, so you should, even if you don’t have any specific travel plans.