If you are applying for a U.S. green card through the process known as "adjustment of status," in which you submit your application materials to, and attend your interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), then it's important to prepare yourself for certain aspects of the wait for an interview. That wait could be months long, depending on the backup at your local USCIS office.
If You Move While Awaiting an Adjustment Interview
Within ten days of moving, you (and every immigrating member of your family) must advise a central USCIS office. The law requires this of all non-U.S. citizens over 14 years old and remaining in the U.S. for more than 30 days. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor and can be punished with a jail term of up to 30 days, a fine of up to $200, or your removal from the United States. (See I.N.A. § 265; 8 U.S.C. § 1305.) Plus, if USCIS doesn't know where to reach you, it might send your interview notice to the wrong address, and you'd miss it entirely. (Do NOT count on the U.S. Postal Service to forward your mail.)
The procedure for advising USCIS of your move is to use Form AR-11. To file the AR-11 online, go to the "USCIS Online Change of Address" page of www.uscis.gov and follow the instructions. When finished, click “Signature” to e-file the form. Print a copy for your records. It will show the date and time the form was filed, and will contain a USCIS confirmation number. There is no fee for this form. One advantage to e-filing your AR-11 is that you will be asked whether you have applications pending, so that the office that will interview you will automatically be informed of your address change (a big improvement over the old system, in which you had to separately advise each office handling your application).
If you prefer to file your AR-11 by regular mail, print out the form from the USCIS website and mail it to the address shown on the form. It’s best to file by certified mail and retain copies of the filed forms and proof of mailing. Realize, however, that if you mail your AR-11, you will still have to send an additional letter to the USCIS interviewing office to notify it of your address change. If you move to another city, your entire file may have to be sent to a different USCIS office. This always results in long delays. If you know before you file your adjustment of status application that you’ll be moving to a different city, it’s wise to wait until after your move to file your application.
If You Travel While Awaiting an Adjustment Interview
While waiting for your adjustment of status interview, you may want or need to visit your home country or somewhere else, perhaps to visit family or continue arranging your move to the United States, for example. You can travel, but must use great care. If you simply get up and go without getting official permission, the law says you will have given up (or abandoned, in USCIS terminology) your adjustment of status application. You will need to start all over.
The exception is if you arrived in the United States on a K-3 visa (a so-called “fiancé visa” designed especially for already married couples). People with K-3 visas can use these to reenter the United States as many times as they like until a decision has been made on their green card application.
To protect yourself (if you don’t have a K-3 visa), ask USCIS for advance permission to leave (called “Advance Parole”). You can either file the Advance Parole application together with your adjustment of status application, or you can file it separately, along with proof that your adjustment of status application has already been filed. Once you’ve received Advance Parole, your adjustment of status application will be preserved, including its place in line. Your trip shouldn’t delay the processing of your application. In fact, you may be granted a multiple entry Advance Parole document, meaning you can take many trips within a certain time period.
Alternatively, you can submit the application form online through the USCIS website by going to the page for Form I-131 and clicking “Electronic Filing.” If you choose this online, “E-Filing” option, however, you will still have to submit the remainder of your documents by mail, to an address that you’ll get in your confirmation receipt.
a. Qualifying for Advance Parole
Advance Parole used to be granted only for emergencies. Fortunately, USCIS has become far more lenient, recognizing the hardship caused by its own processing delays. Family visits or even a vacation with your spouse are usually considered an acceptable reason to leave the United States.
The form you’ll complete will ask you to attach a page explaining how you qualify for Advance Parole and why your application deserves to be approved. This explanation doesn’t need to be very long. You can simply write your name and A number at the top of a page and then say something like this: “I qualify for Advance Parole because I am the spouse of a U.S. citizen awaiting my adjustment of status interview. I would like to travel to my native country to visit my sister, whom I haven’t seen in years and who has just had a baby.”
However, if you are traveling because of an emergency, it may help or speed up your application to explain and substantiate the crisis. For example, if it’s a family medical emergency, provide a letter from your family member’s doctor explaining your family member’s condition and the need for your visit.
b. Be Cautious About Leaving
The Advance Parole document is your ticket back into the United States, but it is not a guaranteed ticket. Its function is to keep your adjustment of status application alive while you’re gone—but it won’t protect you from being found inadmissible. So if you have any doubts about your admissibility to the United States, don’t leave at all.
Don’t be alarmed, however, if upon returning to the United States, you are pulled into a separate line. This is called “secondary inspection,” and it is the normal procedure for anyone returning with an Advance Parole document.
Applicants who have spent time unlawfully in the United States should speak to a lawyers before leaving. If you’ve spent more than 180 continuous days unlawfully in the United States, you could be barred from returning. Getting permission in the form of an Advance Parole document might, under a 2012 Board of Immigration Appeals, overcome the problem -- but this is a changing area of the law, so you should get the latest advice from an attorney.