Emergency Travel Document:

What Is It And How To Get One?


Travel outside of the U.S. may have severe consequences for foreign nationals who are in the process of adjusting their status or are lawful permanent residents or “green card holders” already. It is important that before leaving the U.S. in an emergency, foreign nationals determine if a travel document to re-enter the country would be required. 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.

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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.

Individuals with a pending Adjustment of Status and who need to travel immediately but have not obtained their Advance Parole can apply for an Emergency Advance Parole at their local USCIS field office. While processing times for Service Centers ranges from 90-150 days, local field offices are authorized to issue an Emergency Advance Parole within 1-2 days.  The applicant must be ready to prove that the reason for the trip is truly an emergency, whether related to illness, business or other personal matters.

Re-entry Permit

A Re-entry Permit is a travel document issued to lawful permanent residents (LPR green card holders) and conditional residents to re-enter the U.S. after travel abroad of one year or more. Re-entry Permits are generally valid for two years from the date of issuance. While the I-551 card or green card is the proper document for re-entry after an absence of less than a year, 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 an LPR 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..

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 and must be ready to show that the U.S. still remains the individual’s permanent residence.

Legal permanent residents must apply for this benefit while physically in the U.S. It is possible, however, to travel while the application is pending. In the case where an LPR must leave the U.S. quickly and may be outside the U.S. for a prolonged period of time, s/he can file the application for the Re-entry Permit (Form I-131) with USCIS. The applicant should be prepared to stay for 3-6 weeks in order to appear for Biometrics or be prepared to return to perform the Biometrics.  The applicant can have the Re-entry Permit sent to their attorney’s office or to a US Consulate abroad

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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 a 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.

In the case of an emergent need to travel, the applicant may submit an Expedite Request to USCIS through the National Customer Service Number.  Evidence of the need for the emergent travel should be available for submission if requested.


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. even in the case of emergencies.

If you need an emergency travel document, click here to  speak with a VisaPro Immigration Attorney.

We at VisaPro have been regularly post 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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