Can I Travel without a Green Card?
Q: I've sent in my green card application, but am still waiting for my green card to arrive. I would like to visit another country. Can I travel without a green card?
A green card is the identification document that proves your permanent resident status. This card enables you to work and travel in the USA. If you have applied for it and your case is still pending, there are two documents that usually do not take as long to get. One is the Employment Authorization Document, which will allow you to work in the USA. The second is a temporary travel document. This document, known as advanced parole, will allow you to travel without a green card. To apply for this permit fill out the I-131 form by following the instructions on the USCIS forms website.
Q: When I came to U.S., I was a permanent resident. I am still waiting for green card delivery. I would like to visit my family outside the country, but am afraid I will not be let back in to the U.S. What should I do?
Because you are already a permanent resident, unlike someone still waiting for their status to change (see above), you should still be able to travel without a green card. When you came to the USA, the border officer stamped your passport, indicating your status as a permanent resident. This stamp has an expiration date (usually six months from the time it was stamped). As long as you re-enter the USA before that stamped expiration date, you are free to travel and will be able to re-enter the USA upon your return.
In addition to checking this stamped expiration date, you should also check the date when your passport itself expires -- usually, this date is located on the same page as your photo. If this date has passed or will pass while you are out of the USA, you need to renew your passport. To renew your passport online, go to the Dept. of State website passport renewal page. Keep the old passport with you because it has your permanent residence stamp in it! While you are away, leave a copy of your passport and permanent residence stamp with someone in the USA. That way, if your passport gets lost or stolen, someone can fax a copy of your passport and permanent residence stamp to the closest U.S. consulate or embassy near you. The U.S. consulate or embassy will then help enable you to travel without a green card.
Be careful not to stay outside the USA for too long or do anything else that might look like you intend to live outside the USA. Many people have lost their permanent residence through abandonment. Keeping your visit outside the USA under six months is probably safe. If you know you will be outside the USA for longer than one year, you need to plan ahead and apply for a Reentry Permit. You can do this through the USCIS forms website.
Q: Can I work while waiting for my green card?
Yes, although the USCIS must grant approval. In order to work while you await adjustment of status, you must submit an Application for Employment Authorization. If you're approved, you'll be able to work in the U.S. while your green card application is reviewed, and your Employment Authorization also serves as proof to an employer that you're lawfully allowed to work.
Getting Legal Help
You've spent a lot of time and effort in following proper procedures to apply for a green card. The last thing you want is for the USCIS to deem that you've abandoned your application or your status as a permanent resident. If the USCIS reaches this conclusion, you'll have to start the process over from the beginning, pay all of the fees again, and you may have to wait in line behind other applicants.
If your green card application has been submitted and is pending approval, or if you're a permanent resident, make sure you fully understand the procedure and requirements for traveling abroad. To avoid the USCIS concluding that you have no intention of making the U.S. your permanent residence, you should consult with an experienced immigration attorney in your area.