I've Been Granted DACA: Can I Leave the U.S. to Visit Family?

Risks and possibilities for leaving the U.S. on Advance Parole as a DACA recipient.

By , J.D.

For foreign nationals whose parents brought them to the United States as a child, and has applied for and been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status here, it might be years since they've seen grandparents or various other relations. If they want to go back and visit them, they face the risk that they'll be refused entry to the United States upon returning. After all, DACA is not technically an immigration status, but merely an agreement from the U.S. government not to immediately deport the person.

But there is a possible way to travel and return, called "Advance Parole." Receiving this, however, depends on showing specific or urgent reasons, as described in this article.

"Advance Parole" Can Allow DACA Recipients to Travel and Return to the U.S.

The rule is that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may grant Advance Parole to a DACA applicant if the trip is for purposes to do with:

  • educational
  • employment, or
  • urgent humanitarian reasons.

The agency will not grant Advance Parole for a mere vacation.

If USCIS does grant you Advance Parole, it will give you a form called an I-512L, which you can show to the U.S. border officers upon your return. Realize, however, that the I-512L is not an absolute guarantee that you will be allowed to return to the United States—though you certainly should not leave the U.S. without it.

When a DACA Holder Can Qualify for Advance Parole

The examples USCIS gives in its Instructions for Form I-131 (the form used to apply for Advance Parole) include, in the case of a request based on educational reasons, "semester abroad programs or academic research."

Its examples for people applying for Advance Parole for employment purposes include "overseas assignments, interviews, conferences, training, or meetings with clients."

And its examples with regard to humanitarian purposes include "to obtain medical treatment, attend funeral services for a family member, or visit an ailing relative."

If you don't fit into one of these categories, it's possible USCIS will view your planned trip as a mere vacation.

You will definitely want to obtain documentation of the facts supporting your request, such as letters or invitations from program sponsors or your professor or employer concerning your planned participation in an overseas seminar or program; or medical test results and a recent doctor's letter emphasizing the seriousness of a foreign family member's condition and the importance of your visit (plus birth or marriage certificates proving your relationship to this person). Include these with your Advance Parole application.

Even if you plan to hire an attorney for help, now is a good time to start gathering these documents. Any that are not in English will need to be accompanied by word-for-word translations.

How to Apply for Advance Parole

To apply for Advance Parole, you will need Form I-131 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with supporting documents showing your urgent reasons for applying, photos, and a fee.

For more information on the application process, see DACA Recipients: How to Apply for a Travel Document (Advance Parole).

If it is truly an emergency, contact USCIS at 1-800-375-5283. Start early in the morning; you are unlikely to reach a live person right away, but will likely have to wait for a return call. That person might then be able to arrange an appointment at your local USCIS field office to apply for Emergency Advance Parole.

Getting Legal Help

Hiring an experienced immigration attorney to handle your application for Advance Parole can be an excellent idea, given the complexity of both the law and the paperwork. There's nothing automatic about filling out the form and getting approved; it's what's known as a "discretionary" approval. You'll therefore need to present convincing facts to support your request.

A good attorney can analyze the facts of your case and spot any potential problems, update you on any late-breaking changes in USCIS policy, prepare the forms and help gather documents, write cover letters and legal arguments, and assess your level of risk upon return.

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