It’s two cards in one! Sort of. Issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the so-called “combo card” combines an Employment Authorization Document (also known as a work permit or EAD) with Advance Parole permission (allowing you to travel and return to the U.S. without abandoning your green card application-in-progress.)
The net result is that recipients don’t need to carry around two separate items. (The EAD was always a plastic identity card, while Advance Parole permission formerly came as paperwork.)
Before you get too excited about this, however, realize that the convenience of consolidating these two items doesn’t come with much in the way of other benefits to the recipients. In particular, it:
- Isn’t available to everyone. USCIS will give this combo card only to people applying for adjustment of status (the procedure for getting a green card while you’re already living in the U.S.; lawfully in most cases). Applicants for an EAD or AP on any other basis will have to settle for the old system of carrying two separate documents.
- Won’t lower your fees. When applying for adjustment of status, the fee is calculated to include Form I-485, I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization Document) and I-131 (Application for Travel Document). Even if you were to elect not to turn in one or both of the latter two forms, it wouldn’t lower your overall fee; and neither will receiving a combo card. What’s more, if you lose your card or it’s damaged and you need a new one, you will have to file both Form I-765 and I-131 at the same time, and pay both fees: as of early 2014, $380 for the I-765 and $360 for the I-131.
- Won’t be granted if your applications get separated. If, for example, USCIS denies your I-131 but grants your I-765, you won’t be given a combo card. If in that situation you realize that you made a mistake on the I-131 and refile later, you will have to settle for a regular set of AP paperwork. Similarly, if you file the I-765 and I-131 at different times or in different packages, USCIS will be unable to consolidate them, and will not issue you a combo card.
But wait, here’s a benefit! (A small one.) If you were to submit separate applications for and EAD and for AP, you would need to include two identical, passport-style photos with each application. These usually need to be professionally done, in order to meet the size and other requirements. But when filing the two applications concurrently for the combo card, you need to provide only two photos.
If you want a combo card, you don’t need to specifically ask USCIS for it. Simply include both Form I-765 and I-131 with your adjustment of status application. USCIS will do the rest.
Once issued, your card will most likely last one or two years, depending on what USCIS decides. That should give you plenty of time for USCIS to make a decision on your green card application. Once you have a U.S. green card, you will not need a separate work permit, nor will you need advance parole in order to travel.