When you become a lawful permanent resident or a conditional permanent resident of the United States, you may still need to travel outside the country for different reasons.
The United States government provides certain conditions each lawful permanent resident or conditional permanent resident must meet when traveling outside of the country. One of these conditions involves filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.
What is Form I-131?
This is the form that permits certain eligible individuals to reenter the United States, obtain a Refugee Travel Document or Advance Parole. Form I-131 is usually filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the government agency in charge of upholding immigration law, before traveling abroad. Its main purpose is to protect an individual’s ability to reenter the United States when they travel abroad.
Form I-131 Processing Times Overview
Form I-131 processing times vary depending on multiple factors, which we will discuss later in this article. For now, let’s look at Form I-131 processing times in 2023 based on various field offices or service centers across the country.
Note: should you find yourself in the predicament of requiring immediate travel outside of the United States before the processing time for Form I-131 is complete, it may be possible to obtain an Advance Parole Document on an emergency basis by visiting the nearest USCIS office
1) California Service Center
The processing time at the California Service Center is between 14 to 20 months. However, this processing time is subject to change without prior notice.
2) National Benefits Center
At the National Benefits Center (NBC), the processing time for Form I-131 is between 11.5 months to 13 months. The NBC is a USCIS center that mostly processes two types of immigration petitions: the family-based adjustment of status and Form I-130 petitions.
3) Nebraska Service Center
At the Nebraska Service Center, the processing time of Form I-131 is around 13.5 to 15.5 months.
4) Texas Service Center
The processing time for Form I-131 at the Texas Service Center is about 16.5 to 19 months.
5) Vermont Service Center
At the Vermont Service Center, the processing time is about 7 to 13 months.
It’s important to note that these processing times represent data collected approximately two months before. As a result, the processing times may change without prior notice.
To keep up with the latest time estimates, you can use the Case Processing Times tool available on the USCIS website. When you file Form I-131, you will receive a USCIS receipt notice showing that the government agency has received your petition. Be sure to keep the receipt number because you’ll need it to check your case status.
Factors Affecting Form I-131 Processing Times
It’s no secret that the USCIS is taking longer than ever to process Form I-131 petitions and almost all other immigration documents. To put this into perspective, in fiscal year (FY) 2014, the average processing time for immigration petitions was five months.
Fast forward to 2022, the average processing time is nine months. Here’s why the USCIS processing time has increased over the past few years.
Covid 19 Pandemic
The Covid 19 pandemic has significantly contributed to the increased USCIS processing times for various immigration petitions, not just Form I-131. For instance, between March and July 2020, the USCIS shut down its offices for biometric interviews and appointments. This led to an increased delay in processing immigration petitions.
After the Covid 19 shutdown was lifted, many USCIS offices faced huge backlogs from the pending petitions that couldn’t be processed during the shutdown. For instance, most I-765 applications were delayed because they could not be adjudicated before collecting biometrics. And given that the biometrics department had been shut down to limit physical contact during the pandemic, the government backlog grew even bigger.
Filing an erroneous petition could significantly increase the processing time. Given that the USCIS takes at least nine months to review Form I-131 petitions and even longer for some other petitions, it’s important to ensure that you file each petition correctly.
For instance, using an outdated form could lead to the rejection of your petition. The same applies if your petition has factual errors or if you fail to provide the required supporting documentation alongside your petition.
If you’re unsure how to file Form I-131, it’s always advisable to contact an experienced immigration attorney or a reputable online filing service. This limits the chances of filing the wrong paperwork or making avoidable mistakes.
It takes even longer to process your petition when the USCIS requests additional information from you. This is because you’ll have to mail it back to them, which takes days or sometimes weeks, depending on certain factors. The petition then goes back to the waiting queue, pending review.
Wrong Filing Address
The USCIS has different filing addresses for various petitions. And the agency is very clear regarding petitions filed to the wrong direct filing address; they may experience processing delays. It’s therefore essential to ensure you’ve filed the petition to the correct address if you want to experience faster processing times or the average, which is way better than having to wait even longer due to certain filing mistakes.
How to Request Expedited Processing
Yes, the USCIS may expedite your Form I-131 petition if it meets certain requirements. For example, the government agency understands that you may need to travel outside the country for an emergency and other qualifying reasons, and that’s why they provide the possibility of expediting your petition.
If you wish to file an expedited request for your Form I-131 application, you can request an advance parole appointment at your local USCIS field office. If you don’t know where to start, you may contact the USCIS Contact Center, an immigration attorney, or a filing service for more filing instructions.
Remember to bring the following supporting documents to your appointment to expedite your petition:
- Form I-131 (completed and signed);
- the correct Form I-131 application fee;
- evidence to support the request to expedite (death certificate, hospital records, etc.);
- two passport photos; and
- an official identification document (examples include your Employment Authorization Card, valid government-issued driver’s license, a copy of your passport, or proof of your lawful permanent resident status).
How to File Form I-131
You may file Form I-131 to obtain a reentry permit, advance travel document, which includes advance parole in the United States for humanitarian reasons, refugee travel document, or advance permission to travel for CNMI long-term residents.
It’s also important to ensure that you meet the eligibility requirements to file this form, as provided by the USCIS.
Who Can File Form I-131?
Although we’ve already mentioned the type of eligibility categories for individuals who wish to file this petition, let’s now take a deeper look at the requirements for each category.
You can file Form I-131 when you need:
As stated before, you can file this petition if you need a reentry permit into the United States if you are a lawful permanent resident or a conditional resident. However, you must be physically present in the United States for this to work.
After filing for the permit, the USCIS will notify you in writing about the next step, which usually involves scheduling a biometrics appointment at your local Application Support Center.
You may also request the USCIS to ship your reentry permit to a US Embassy, Consulate, or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office abroad for you to pick up.
Refugee Travel Document
You can apply for a Refugee Travel Document if you are:
- in the United States with a valid refugee or asylee status; or
- you are a lawful permanent resident due to your refugee or asylee status in the US.
However, remember to apply for a Refugee Travel Document before leaving the US. This is because you may be denied this travel document if the USCIS schedules a biometrics appointment and you fail to appear.
It’s also important to note that if you have a valid, unexpired Reentry Permit, you will not be deemed to have abandoned your permanent residency status based on the duration of your absence from the US.
Advance Parole Travel Document
This eligibility category further falls into two other subcategories. They include:
Advanced Parole Document for Individuals Currently Living In The United States
Individuals currently living in the US may be eligible for an Advance Parole Document. This travel document is usually issued to applicants who:
- have a pending application to adjust status, commonly referred to as Form I-485, and would like to travel outside of the United States for ‘urgent humanitarian reasons,’ such as a personal or family emergency. They may also qualify if they wish to travel for a reason that’s of a ‘significant public benefit’ or work for a nonprofit organization whose request represents the cultural and social interests of the US;
- have a pending application for Temporary Protected Status, also known as Form I-821;
- have been granted Temporary Protected Status; or
- Have been granted T or U nonimmigrant status.
Advance Parole Document for Individuals Currently Living Outside The United States
If you wish to travel to the United States for a humanitarian reason or a significant public benefit, you may obtain this travel document if you can’t obtain the required visa. Alternatively, an individual in the United States can file this document on your behalf.
Advance Permission to Travel For CNMI Long-Term Residents
You may be eligible for Advance Permission to Travel if you have been granted CNMI long-term resident status. However, if you are in the CNMI and have been granted CNMI long-term status, you must first obtain Advance Permission to Travel before leading the CNMI to travel to any part of the US.
How Long Does a Reentry Permit Stay Valid?
In most cases, a Reentry Permit issued to a green card holder is valid for two years from the date of issuance. However, this duration may not be more than a year if you have resided outside the United States for more than four of the last five years.
Does the USCIS Extend Reentry Permits?
Generally, the USCIS does not extend Reentry Permits. However, if you have concerns about extending your reentry permit, it’s best to speak with an experienced immigration lawyer to evaluate your options.
Can You Get a New Reentry Permit if You Lost the Previous One?
Yes, the USCIS can issue you with a new Reentry Permit if you can prove that you lost the initial one. However, you may not be issued a new reentry permit if you are still in possession of a current permit and it is still valid.
You may also not receive such a permit if a notice was published in the Federal Register prohibiting the issuance of a Reentry Permit for the area you intend to go to.
Can I Apply for a Refugee Travel Document From Outside of the United States?
The USCIS strongly advises eligible applicants not to leave the country without an approved travel document. However, if you travel outside of the country without this travel document and you wish to apply from outside the country, you must:
- have a valid refugee or asylee status; or
- be a green card holder due to a direct result of your asylee or refugee status in the US.
However, the decision to approve your petition solely lies with the USCIS Overseas District Director in charge of handling such petitions in your location.
Additionally, the petition must be filed within a year of your last departure from the US and explain why you did not apply for such a document while you were still in the United States.
If granted, this document is usually valid for a year and may not be extended.