Let's say you have recently submitted an application for permanent residency while you are in the U.S. ("adjustment of status," seeking a green card). But then your sister announces she is getting married next month in your home country: Can you travel abroad without jeopardizing your green card application?
The answer would normally be "no." Someone who simply leaves the U.S. while an immigration application is pending risks forfeiting it altogether; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could think the applicant has lost interest, and close the file altogether. However, there's a simple way around this: You can, before leaving the United States, obtain permission from USCIS to reenter the country, which also makes sure USCIS will keep your file open and your residency application (Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) active.
To obtain this permission, you will need to file an application for what's called "advance parole," using Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. Ideally, you will have filed the I-131 at the same time that you initially filed Form I-485, thus avoiding any delays in USCIS processing your travel document. But the I-131 can also be filed later than the I-485.
Read on for practical advice about the benefits of applying for advance parole and detailed instructions on how to prepare Form I-131 as an adjustment-of-status applicant.
If you are an applicant for adjustment of status (a green card), you will likely find that many months pass between the time you file your application for residency with USCIS and the agency's decision on your application. During this time, you should spend most of your time in the U.S., so that you can appear for a biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment, your in-person interview at a USCIS office (required in most cases), and to receive any requests for evidence (RFEs) that USCIS might send you.
Nevertheless, you might need to travel abroad before you get your green card. To plan ahead for this possibility, file Form I-131 at the same time you apply for permanent residency. (It's also smart to submit a Form I-765, Application for an Employment Authorization Document, in case you would like to work or show a U.S. photo id card before your residency application is approved.)
You must remain in the U.S. until your advance parole is approved and your travel document is mailed to you. Again, USCIS will cancel your adjustment of status application if you leave before advance parole is issued.
Advance parole and Form I-131 are not just for adjustment of status applicants. Persons with other types of status in the U.S. sometimes need advance parole, and Form I-131 is also used for seeking reentry permits and refugee travel documents. Don't be confused by irrelevant questions on the form! This article focuses on advance parole for adjustment applicants only.
Even with an advance parole document, you can still be denied U.S. reentry at the discretion of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This was, in the past, a particular problem for people who had been unlawfully present in the U.S. for 180 days or more; and it remains a problem for anyone who is inadmissible for some other reason. (For more on the grounds of inadmissibility that can railroad your attempts to reenter the U.S., see Inadmissibility: When the U.S. Can Keep You Out.)
If you think you might be inadmissible, check with an immigration attorney before you leave the country.
The good news regarding unlawful presence, however, is that the Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A..) ruled in Matter of Arrabally and Yerrabelly, 25 I&N Dec. 771 (B.I.A. 2012), that people with a pending permanent residency application who leave the U.S. with advance parole do not trigger the three– and ten-year unlawful presence bars. USCIS has agreed to follow the BIA's decision.
Much of Form I-131 is self-explanatory. Here, we provide guidance for some of the more confusing aspects of the application for adjustment of status applicants.
Form I-131, the instructions, and the latest filing fees are available on the I-131 page of the USCIS website. This article discusses the version of the form issued 10/31/2022 (expiring 10/31/2024).
Here are the items you will need to include with your Form I-131:
The best way to fill out the I-131 form is on your computer. If you are going to be writing on the form, use black ink.
If the form doesn't provide enough space to fit your answer to a question, you will need to staple a continuation sheet to the end of the form. On the top of each continuation sheet, write your name and, if you have one, your Alien Registration Number ("A" Number). Indicate which part and item number you are providing additional information for. At the bottom of each sheet, sign your name and put the date you signed it.
Sometimes a question just doesn't apply to you or your situation. If that's the case, it's best not to leave the space blank. Instead, type N/A in the box. If the form won't let you type N/A, write it in by hand.
Part 1, "Information About You": In this section, you will provide your basic personal information. Provide the address of where you actually live—not your mailing address—in questions 2.a. through 2.i. Question 6 asks for your "class of admission," which you can find on the visa you used the last time you entered the United States. For example, if you came to the U.S. originally as a temporary visitor for business, you should write "B-1." If you have no class of admission, like if you crossed the U.S. border without inspection, you can type N/A and perhaps an explanation like "entered without inspection." (But in that case, doublecheck with an attorney that you are truly eligible to adjust status in the United States; it's unlikely.) For Question 9, you might not have a Social Security Number (SSN) yet (or a valid one). Leave this blank if you have no valid SSN.
Part 2, "Application Type": Check box 1.d (assuming you are still in the U.S.). Do not check any other box. You do not have to fill in any other box in Part 2.
Part 3, "Processing Information": If you know your date of departure and how long the trip will last, include that information in the boxes for questions 1 and 2. If you do not already have a trip planned, don't worry about it—USCIS does not require you to know exactly when in advance. You can write something like "TBD" ("to be determined") in the boxes. Question 3.a. asks whether you are in immigration proceedings (meaning that you have been called to immigration court for a hearing to decide whether you should be removed from the U.S.). Note that you must check "No" here in order to be eligible for an advance parole document. After answering question 4 of Part 3, you can skip to Part 7.
Leave Parts 4, 5, and 6 blank.
Part 7, "Complete Only If Applying for Advance Parole": You are asked to attach documents to prove that you qualify for an advance parole document. If you have already submitted your application for a green card, include a copy of the USCIS receipt notice from your pending application. (If you are submitting this at the same time as an adjustment of status application, USCIS will be easily able to tell that this is your basis for eligibility, so there's no need to attach anything extra.)
For Question 1, it's wise to check "More than one trip" even if you only plan on leaving the U.S. once. This way you will be issued a multiple entry document, which is useful in case you need to make an additional trip outside the United States. You can leave the boxes for questions 2, 3, and 4 blank, because you are not outside the United States.
Part 8, "Signature of Applicant": Make sure to sign and date your application and provide a phone number where you can be reached. USCIS will reject your form if your signature is not on it.
Part 9, "Information About Person Who Prepared This Application, If Other Than the Applicant": This section needs to be filled out only if someone else prepared your application, like an attorney. Otherwise leave it blank.
Make a copy of the entire application package for your records and send the application to the address that applies to you on the USCIS webpage containing the filing addresses for Form I-131. The address to which you will send your application depends on whether you are filing it with Form I-485 or on its own. If you're filing it after the I-485, the address depends on which USCIS office is handling your I-485. You'll know by the receipt number on the Form I-797C Notice of Action you got from USCIS when you filed your I-485.
If you're running into difficulties or encounter questions you can't answer, seek help from an experienced immigration attorney.