Can I Stay in the U.S. While Waiting for a Green Card?

Whether or not you can stay in the United States while waiting for a green card will depend on your eligibility. Although certain immigrants may be allowed to stay in the country while waiting for a green card, others may need to leave and wait for the green card outside the United States.

So let’s dig into the details. 

When Can You Stay in the U.S. While Waiting for a Green Card?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) considers certain visa categories “immediately available”. This means such visas do not have a waiting period for them to become available. So, if you applied for this type of visa, chances are the U.S. government will allow you to stay in the country as you wait for your visa to become available. Here are some examples of ‘immediately available’ visas. 

1) Immediate Relative Visas

As the name suggests, these visas are available for U.S. citizens’ spouses, parents, unmarried children (under 21), and eligible widows or widowers. It’s important to understand that there is no cap on the number of immediate relative visas that can be issued yearly.

Therefore, if you apply for a green card based on this eligibility category, you can stay in the country while waiting for a decision from the USCIS. 

2) Fiancé(e) Visas

These visas are available for foreign nationals who are engaged to a U.S. citizen and plan to marry in the U.S. Here’s an overview of the fiancé(e) visa process.

Also known as a K-1 visa, a fiancé(e) visa allows a foreign national engaged to a U.S. citizen to enter the United States to get married to their fiancé(e). To be eligible for the visa, the U.S. citizen petitioner must prove that they have met their fiancé(e) in person within the past two years and have a bona fide relationship

The foreign national fiancé(e) must also pass a background check and prove that they do not have any criminal or immigration violations. Then, the U.S. citizen files a petition for their fiancé(e) with the USCIS. The petition must include evidence of the couple’s relationship, like it is the case for a marriage-based green card, and their intent to get married within 90 days of the fiancé(e) entering the U.S. 

Once the USCIS approves the petition and the foreign national fiancé(e) travels to the U.S., they have 90 days to marry their U.S. spouse. After getting married to their U.S. citizen petitioner, they can apply for an Adjustment of Status to become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) and stay in the U.S. while their application is pending. 

3) Asylum and Refugee Status

One year after being granted asylee or refugee status, you will be eligible to apply for a green card. You can stay in the U.S. throughout the green card application process and even when your application is still pending.

Read More | How to Get a Green Card for Asylum, Explained

When Can You Not Stay in the U.S. While Waiting for a Green Card?

Applying for a U.S. green card does not automatically give you the right to stay in the United States while your application is being processed. If your visa is not “immediately available,” you may need to leave the U.S, even as your green card application is pending. 

Remember that you must be eligible for a green card before applying. In other words, you cannot apply for a green card just to extend your stay in the U.S. even though you do not qualify. While you may be able to get away with staying in the country for several months while the green card application is pending, doing so could jeopardize your chances of being granted reentry into the United States, let alone a green card.

For example, let’s say your visa only allows you to stay in the United States for six months before returning to your home country. In that case, if you extend your stay without a qualifying reason, you risk being deported and getting banned from traveling to the United States for up to 10 years

Can I Leave the United States With a Pending Green Card Application?

If you reside in the U.S. and have a pending adjustment of status application, you do not have to wait for your green card to be approved. Rather, you can travel outside of the U.S. if you have a valid travel permit, such as an Advance Parole document. 

What Is an Advance Parole Document? 

The USCIS issues this document to certain foreign nationals, such as green card applicants, allowing them to re-enter the United States after traveling out of the country. However, to be approved for this document:

  • the foreign national must apply for a green card while already in the United States,
  • The foreign national needs to obtain Advance parole before traveling. Otherwise, they may not be granted re entry into the United States.

Read More | How to Get Reentry Permits for Green Card Holders?

Having an advance parole document does not necessarily mean that you qualify for reentry into the United States, though; the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent at the port of entry has the authority to deny entry to anyone they believe is inadmissible.

That said, this travel document may increase the chances of being allowed back into the U.S. It is typically a prerequisite for foreign nationals who want to travel outside the United States while their immigration application is pending.

How Can I Apply for an Advance Parole?

Here are some simple steps to apply for an Advance Parole document with the USCIS. 

Step #1: 

Complete Form I-131: Application for Travel Document

Step #2

Gather supporting documentation, such as proof of your pending immigration application or other compelling reasons why you need to travel outside of the United States.

Step #3

Submit your application to USCIS by mail or online through the USCIS website. If you choose to apply via mail, the correct mailing address will depend on the specifics of your application.

For example, when filing your Form I-131 alone, and your Form I-485 receipt notice (Form I-797C, Notice of Action) begins with ‘EAC,’ will need to mail your application to the following address:

  • USCIS Dallas Lockbox
  • U.S. Postal Service (USPS):
  • Attn: NFB
  • P.O. Box 660867
  • Dallas, TX 75266-0867

The USCIS provides a list of mailing addresses for Form I-131 Travel Document, so make sure you use the correct address. 

Step #4

Wait for a response from USCIS. If approved, you will receive an Advance Parole document via mail, allowing you to travel outside the U.S. and travel back. 

It is worth mentioning that you can apply for the travel document along with your application for a green card or after. Suppose you intend to travel to the United States soon after applying for a green card.

In that case, you should include your application for Advance Parole in your Adjustment of Status application. However, you should expect the USCIS officer to ask you about the advance parole document during your green card interview. 

How Long Does It Take for the Advance Parole Application to Be Processed? 

The processing time for Advance Parole applications depends on factors such as USCIS workload and the complexity of your case. For context, as of 2023, the California Service Center takes approximately 15.5 months to process I-131 applications. On the other hand, the Texas Service Center takes roughly 17 months. 

Can You Apply for an Expedited Advance Parole Document?

The USCIS can expedite your Advance Parole document application, reducing the processing time to around 30 days. However, the USCIS only issues emergency travel documents to individuals with valid reasons. 

Examples of valid reasons that USCIS may consider for expediting your application include the following:

  • You suffered a financial loss to your company,
  • You have an emergency situation that requires immediate travel,
  • You have a valid valid humanitarian reason to travel,
  • You have an affiliation with a non-profit organization that needs expedited application for culture or social interests benefiting the United States,
  • Your request has been made by the Department of Defense or another U.S. government agency to promote the national interest ,
  • An administrative error made by USCIS .

The USCIS will evaluate each request for expedited processing on a case-by-case basis and at their discretion. Therefore, you should provide supporting documentation and a clear explanation of your situation to increase the likelihood of obtaining a favorable decision.

Do I Still Need An Advance Parole Document If I Am Already a Permanent Resident?

If you are a green card holder and plan to leave the country for over a year but less than two years, you may need a valid travel document before departing. This document increases your chances of being readmitted into the United States without being judged to have abandoned your immigration status.

Read More | Substantial Presence Tests for Green Card

Do I Need Travel Authorization to Travel Within the United States With a Pending Adjustment of Status Application?

No. Travel authorization, in the form of an Advance Parole document, is required only if you plan to temporarily travel internationally while your Adjustment of Status (AOS) application is pending. Keep in mind that traveling within the U.S. may require valid identification, such as a passport, driver’s license, or state I.D. card, depending on the mode of transportation.

Final Thoughts

While you can stay in the United Stats with a pending green card application, your eligibility category will determine whether it’s a good idea to do so. Even though you may be able to obtain a travel document, allowing you to remain outside the United States for a specific period, usually one year, you should consider consulting an experienced immigration attorney.

The immigration lawyer will review the unique circumstances of you case offer legal guidance to ensure you do not jeopardize your green card process. 


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