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How do I get an Emergency Travel Document?
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Due to recent changes to U.S. immigration law, travel outside of the U.S. may have severe consequences for foreign nationals (including legal permanent residents) who are in the process of adjusting their status, extending their nonimmigrant stay, or changing their nonimmigrant status. It is important that before leaving the U.S. on an emergency, foreign nationals should determine if they require a travel document to re-enter the country. A travel document grants you permission to re-enter the U.S. after traveling abroad without having to get a new visa. There are mainly three types of travel documents – Advance Parole, Re-entry Permit and Refugee Travel Documents.

Advance Parole

Advance Parole is permission to re-enter the U.S. after traveling abroad in order to continue processing an Adjustment of Status application. Foreign nationals applying for Advance Parole on the basis of a pending application for Adjustment of Status must be approved for Advance Parole prior to leaving the U.S. in order to avoid the termination of their pending application. However, this does not apply to aliens who have applied to adjust to permanent resident status and who maintain valid H-1B, L-1 or K-3 status and visas.

Travel outside of the U.S. without an Advance Parole may have severe consequences ranging from denial of admission into the U.S. to the Adjustment of Status application being denied. An Advance Parole does not guarantee admission into the U.S. and foreign nationals with Advance Parole are still subject to the immigration inspections process at the port-of-entry.

Applicants can apply for Advance Parole at a local USCIS district office or a USCIS Service Center using Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Processing time for Service Centers ranges from 90-150 days while local district offices vary from district to district. Applicants planning to travel abroad should plan ahead to avoid last minute glitches.

Re-entry Permit

A Re-entry Permit is a travel document issued to lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and conditional residents to re-enter the U.S. after travel of one year or more. Re-entry Permits are generally valid for two years from the date of issuance. Legal permanent residents must apply for this benefit before leaving the U.S., however, it is possible to travel while the application is pending. Generally a Re-entry Permit can be issued twice, each time for two years, totaling a period of four years. Each member of a family has to file a separate Form I-131, Application for Travel Document and filing fee to the USCIS in order to obtain a Re-entry Permit.

It is important to note that a Re-entry Permit does not guarantee admission into the U.S. lawful permanent residents with Re-entry Permits are still subject to the inspection process at the port-of-entry. While the I-551 card or green card is the proper document for re-entry after an absence of less than a year, permission to reenter is not guaranteed. The green card is only appropriate for entry if you have not abandoned your permanent residence. The legal requirement is that the absence must be for less than a year and you must be returning to an un-relinquished, lawful permanent residence after a temporary absence. With the Re-entry Permit a lawful permanent resident or conditional resident may remain outside the U.S. for the validity of the Re-entry Permit without abandoning their permanent residence, even if that period is longer than one year.

Refugee Travel Document

A refugee travel document is an authorization that can be used instead of a passport by a Refugee or Asylee. A foreign national who has fled their home country may not have obtained a passport before leaving and in most cases it may be impossible or impractical to obtain one later, since the application would need to be made to the government of the persecuting country. In lieu of the passport, it is possible to apply to the U.S. government for the Refugee Travel Document. Refugees or Asylee applying for a Refugee Travel Document must attach a copy of the document issued by the Service showing the Refugee or Asylee status and indicating the expiration of such status.

Conclusion

Foreign nationals often inadvertently fail to apply for a travel document and end up losing the hard-earned rights and benefits given by the U.S. government. Upon return, certain foreign nationals may be found inadmissible, their applications may be denied, or both. It is important that the proper documentation be obtained before leaving the U.S.

We at VisaPro have been regularly posting travel advisories issued by the USCIS on Advance Paroles and Re-entry Permits. Subscribe to Immigration Alerts to get the latest news delivered to your email inbox.

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