Summer seemed to come early in Portland this year as temperatures spiked into the high 90’s at the beginning of June. While this may have just been a late-spring tease, now that the solstice is behind us, we can officially say that summer is in full swing. This means that summer vacations and warm-weather travel plans are likely imminent.
The ability to travel both domestically and internationally is always one of the biggest concerns for individuals with pending immigration cases. If you’re a hopeful immigrant in the US, you more than likely have family, friends, or business ties in other countries and most likely are not interested in giving up your right to go abroad or visit your home country. Unfortunately, depending on where you are in the process and what type of immigration benefit you are applying for, there may be restrictions on your ability to travel. Therefore, you should always ensure it is safe for you to travel before you book tickets.
The good news is that if you are a conditional resident waiting on a pending I-751 to remove conditions on your Green Card, you are legally allowed to travel internationally and you will not risk abandoning your status or forfeiting your pending case as long as you follow a few simple steps and make sure everything is in order before heading out.
Current processing times for I-751 petitions are upwards of 18 months. With such delayed processing, there’s a very good chance that, at some point, you’ll find yourself with a planned trip and no 10-year Green Card. Here are a few helpful guidelines to keep in mind if you are planning to travel this summer (or any time!) while your I-751 Removal of Conditions application is pending:
You should not leave the country until you have received your I-797C Notice of Action, Receipt Notice from USCIS.
This notice confirms that your petition was received by USCIS and contains language that extends your permanent resident status for an additional 18 months beyond the expiration date listed on your conditional Green Card. Your I-751 Receipt Notice will likely be the only document validating your legal status once your conditional Green Card has expired.
In the case that you do not have access to your receipt notice, you may be able to attend an InfoPass appointment at USCIS to receive an I-551 extension stamp in your passport. USCIS can verify if you are eligible to receive this stamp for travel when you call to schedule the appointment.
You should complete your biometrics appointment before going anywhere, or make sure you have someone at home to help reschedule it.
If you have just recently filed your I-751, you will likely be scheduled for a biometrics appointment to have your fingerprints and photograph taken. Due to current delays, it is difficult to predict when this appointment will be scheduled. It is a good idea to stay in the US until you have completed this appointment. If this is not possible, you should make sure that your attorney or someone at your address will be able to receive the notice if it arrives while you are away. You should then request right away to have the appointment rescheduled. If you do not reschedule and do not show up for your appointment, USCIS may consider your application abandoned.
You should not be away for too long.
It is not a good idea to travel for an extended period of time (6+ months) while your application is pending. If you do need to leave the country for several months, you should seek guidance on maintaining your application and potentially applying for a Re-entry Permit.
You should keep your important documents with you at all times.
Finally, when you do leave on your trip, you should be sure to carry both your expired Green Card and your I-751 Receipt Notice with you and keep them in a safe place at all times. Failure to present your I-751 Receipt Notice to border patrol officials can result in a fine or denied entry.
Due to the extreme delays and inconsistencies we are currently seeing with I-751 applications, conditional residents should keep in mind that they may have the option to file for Naturalization while their I-751 is processing. If you have been in the US for two years and nine months and you are married to a US citizen, you may be eligible to apply to become a US citizen (even if your I-751 has not been approved yet). Filing these applications concurrently can help streamline the process as you will likely get called in for a single interview to adjudicate both applications at the same time. At the end of the process, you’ll be a US citizen!