DACA Recipients: How to Apply for a Travel Document (Advance Parole)

With DACA and an Advance Parole travel document, some noncitizens might be able to leave the U.S. and return legally.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

If you have applied for and received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), this could be the first opportunity you've had in a long time to travel outside the U.S. and return legally. Something called "Advance Parole" might make it possible for you to leave the U.S. without losing your DACA status.

In literal terms, receiving Advance Parole means that before leaving the U.S., you would get a document (Form I-512L) that you can present to U.S. border officials upon returning to the United States, so long as you do so before a set expiration date. (For DACA holders, this date is usually within 30 to 45 days.) The Form I-512L is similar in some ways to a visa. If all goes well, the official will, after examining the Advance Parole document, allow your U.S. entry.

The possibility of receiving an Advance Parole document is neither automatic nor risk-free, however. This article will discuss both whether and how to apply for Advance Parole as a DACA recipient.

Risks of Traveling With Advance Parole as a DACA Recipient

Just to be clear, your DACA status is not enough by itself to allow you to leave the U.S. and be admitted back upon your return. You should not even attempt to travel without first applying for and receiving an Advance Parole Document. If you leave without Advance Parole, you will likely be denied reentry and your DACA approval will be cancelled.

However, being approved for Advance Parole does not guarantee your safe return either. First off, if you push things until the last minute and plan to return just before your Advance Parole document expired, then encounter travel delays, you will be blocked from U.S. entry entirely.

Also, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer whom you will meet upon your return to the United States can deny your entry based on a belief that you are "inadmissible," most likely for health or security reasons. Also, you'll be in a weaker arguing position than someone who has, say, held a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence) for a number of years.

You are unlikely to be found inadmissible based on your past unlawful presence in the U.S. and the three- or ten-year bar that is normally the penalty for this, since this bar requires a "departure," and leaving with advance parole doesn't count as a departure. Nevertheless, if you've entered the U.S. illegally more than once, you'll need to make sure the permanent bar doesn't block you; definitely talk to an attorney before leaving.

Worse yet, if you have an outstanding order of removal or deportation on your record (perhaps because an immigration court ordered you deported, or you neglected to show up for a court hearing), leaving the U.S. could be viewed as your having followed through with the deportation. You would not be allowed to return to the U.S. for many years (the exact length depends on the reason for which you were ordered deported). Definitely see an attorney if you are in this situation. The attorney may be able to reopen the immigration proceedings and then have them closed based on your DACA grant.

Who Is Eligible to Apply for Advance Parole as a DACA Recipient

Simply wanting to take a vacation or say hello to family is not enough to qualify DACA recipients for an Advance Parole travel document. You will need to show not only that you have been approved for DACA, but that you have a reason for traveling, either for:

  • humanitarian purposes, which include medical assistance, to attend a family member's funeral, visiting a sick relative, or some other urgent family-related matter
  • educational purposes, including taking part in a study abroad program or doing academic research, or
  • employment purposes, including overseas assignments or client meetings, interviews, conferences, training, and travel needed to pursue a job with a foreign employer in the United States.

Along with your application (described next), you will need to supply authoritative documentary evidence to back up whichever of these purposes you claim.

If you are in doubt as to whether your reason for travel is sufficient, by all means consult an experienced immigration attorney. For what's likely to be a flat fee, you will greatly improve your chances that your application fee won't go to waste!

How to Apply for Advance Parole as a DACA Recipient

To apply for Advance Parole, you will need to submit the following to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS):

  • Form I-131, issued by USCIS (see below).
  • Copy of a photo identity document, such as a driver's license or passport identity page.
  • Proof that you have been approved for DACA (Form I-797).
  • Documents in support of your claimed basis for travel (with a full, certified
    English-language translation if they're in another language).
  • Proof of family relationships if they're relevant to your request. For example, people claiming a need to travel to a grandparents' funeral should supply birth certificates for their parents and themselves, showing the lineage.
  • Two passport-style photos of you, taken within 30 days of filing your Advance Parole application.
  • Information about your intended dates of travel and the duration of your trip or trips (which you should provide in Part 4 of Form I-131), and
  • Application fee (beginning April 1, 2024, it's $630, including biometrics services (fingerprinting and so on); always see the USCIS website for the latest).

Form I-131 is available from the USCIS website as a free download on the I-131, Application for Travel Document page of the USCIS website, as are extensive instructions. (Also see Filling Out Form I-131 for Advance Parole When Applying to Adjust Status in the U.S.)

Form I-131 is used for a number of purposes, so be careful to focus only on the sections that apply to Advance Parole applicants.

For help in determining what sorts of documents to provide as proof of your reason for travel, see the "General Requirements" portion of the USCIS instructions, on Page 8 at 1.c.(5).

The more official the documents you provide, the better. For example, if you wish to travel for educational reasons, you'd want a letter from an official at your school explaining why the travel is required or beneficial or a document showing that you've enrolled in a program or class requiring travel.

Or, if a family member is seriously ill, you'd want to submit a doctor's letter and other medical or hospital reports, as well as proof of the family relationship.

Do not send in original documents; you will not get them back.

Again, consulting an experienced immigration attorney for an analysis of whether you should attempt to apply for Advance Parole and the risks of departure, and for help with preparing a convincing application, would be an excellent idea.

How Long It Will Take USCIS to Process Your Advance Parole Request

Assuming you include all the correct materials, you can expect a wait of between 5 and 17 months, depending on which Service Center handles applications from your region. Check the latest USCIS processing times for details.

In a true emergency, you might be able to arrange faster processing or an in-person appointment by calling the USCIS Contact Center. To be considered an emergency, some USCIS offices insist that you be seeking to travel within the next 90 days. You can also go through the Contact Center for an appointment if USCIS isn't acting on a request you've already filed, but beware: some people are then asked to file a new application and pay the fee once again.

Calling the Contact Center is itself a major undertaking. You'll unlikely to reach a live person directly, and might have to wait for a call-back. Staring early in the morning is advised.

You could also try requesting an in-person appointment directly, via USCIS's online "My Appointment" portal. This is new as of late 2023, so it's impossible to assess whether it will be faster than going through the Contact Center, or what happens if you try both simultaneously. Also, getting an appointment isn't guaranteed: The agency will evaluate your need after you submit the request.

If Your Application for Advance Parole Is Granted

If USCIS approves you for Advance Parole, it will send you a document, known as Form I-512L, Authorization for Parole of an Alien into the United States. Take this document (the original, not a copy) with you when you leave the United States. You'll need to show it before getting on the plane, ship, bus, or train headed back to the U.S. and to the CBP officer when you return.

Look closely at the form, because it contains the last date you can use it to return. Make sure you don't stay outside the U.S. past that date.

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