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


As lawful permanent residents, green card holders have the right to leave the United States and return at will, provided that they don’t remain outside the country for more than a year. However, the rules are somewhat different for individuals whose green card applications are still pending.

If USCIS has yet to rule on your application, leaving the country can result in your green card request being denied. Keep reading to learn about the various travel laws surrounding green card applicants and permanent residents.

What Is a Green Card?

Also known as a permanent residence card, a green card indicates that a person has the legal right to live in the United States. Unlike visas, which allow foreign citizens to live in the country temporarily for a specific purpose, such as attending school, a green card enables people to stay indefinitely. People with green cards also have the right to work while staying in the country.

It’s worth noting that holding a green card is not the same as becoming a U.S. citizen. The naturalization process is more complicated and provides additional rights not available to non-citizens. If you want to vote in U.S. elections or carry an American passport, you will have to take steps to become a citizen.

Who Qualifies for a Green Card?

Not everyone qualifies for a green card. If you want to become a permanent U.S. resident, you will need to meet certain criteria, such as being the immediate relative of a current U.S. citizen or qualifying for asylum or refugee status.

Additionally, the United States may grant green cards to certain highly skilled workers. If you marry a U.S. citizen, expect to wait between 10 and 13 months to receive a green card. On the other hand, individuals married to other green card holders may wait three years before receiving a card.

If you live in the United States, you may be able to help relatives and romantic partners come to the country. As a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor foreign spouses or fiances, your foreign-born children, and immediate family members such as parents and siblings.

As a permanent resident, you are only able to sponsor foreign spouses and your unmarried children (regardless of how old they are at the time of application). Finally, U.S. military members can request citizenship for their family members, and recent refugees or asylees can petition to bring over certain family members who qualify for the same status.

Depending on the specifics of your situation, you will likely need to obtain a visa prior to applying for a green card. For some categories of applicants, visas are always available. However, in our circumstances, the number of visas is limited. Note that immigrants waiting in line to get an immigrant visa have priority when one becomes available.

Traveling While Your Green Card Application Is Pending

If you’re currently waiting on a green card, you need to know the various rules surrounding travel outside the country. If you leave the U.S. without the necessary travel documents, there’s a chance that the USCIS may abandon your application.

As a result, you would have to re-file your paperwork and start the process over. Additionally, you may be unable to return to the country or even face deportation after you’ve returned.

The good news is that there are ways to travel outside the U.S. legally while your green card application is pending. If you need to leave the country while waiting on your green card, you can request a travel document from the USCIS.

They may opt to issue you an Emergency Advance Parole document, which lets you leave the country and return without a visa.

To request an Emergency Advance Parole document, complete the following steps:

  • Submit a signed and completed Form I-131
  • Pay the filing fee
  • Supply evidence detailing your reasons for wanting to travel (such as medical documentation, death certificates, etc)
  • Provide two passport-style photos

It’s worth noting that holding an Emergency Advance Parole document doesn’t guarantee you can return to the U.S. at will. Ultimately, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the final say over whether you can reenter the country.

Other Consequences of Traveling Without a Green Card

If you don’t have the proper travel documents, leaving the country while waiting on a green card application could leave you vulnerable to deportation and other serious issues. However, even those who have an Emergency Advance Parole document may suffer negative consequences if they leave the country.

One of the main problems with traveling while waiting for your green card to be approved is that you won’t necessarily be present for USCIS appointments. In order to receive a green card, you will need to be fingerprinted and attend green card interviews.

Individuals who miss these appointments because they’re traveling out of the country may have to start the process over.

Traveling as a Permanent Resident

The good news is that permanent residents are able to travel outside the U.S. at will in most cases. While temporary or short-term travel plans are unlikely to affect your status as a permanent resident, in some cases the government can revoke a resident’s green card.

Typically, this only happens if it’s determined that you did not truly intend to make the United States your permanent home. If you have been residing outside the country for more than a year, you may be in danger of having your green card taken away.

Contact the Immigration Attorneys at JacksonLaw

At JacksonWhite, we believe that immigrants are a crucial component of this country’s success story. To that end, we work tirelessly to help families overcome immigration challenges to remain together and connected. Whether you need help with a green card application or another legal issue, trust our team to be in your corner.

Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.

Schedule Your Consultation / Programe su Consulta

Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 or fill out the contact form to discuss your case today.

Llame a nuestro equipo de leyes de inmigración al (480) 626-2388 para hablar sobre su caso hoy.