Author: New York Russian Speaking Immigration lawyer Alena Shautsova
If you are not a US citizen yet, you most likely have certain anxiety attached to possible international travel: you may be worried about being allowed to enter the US upon return, or if you can even qualify for travel documents, or if you will be able to return to the US after a prolonged stay abroad.
These are all common questions asked by both green card holders and those for whom the laws of the US allow to apply for a travel permit while they are in the process of receiving a status. For example, people granted asylum or a refugee status in the US can travel abroad only using an asylee/refugee travel document; persons in TPS status, adjustment of status pending, T status, or DACA may request advance parole which will allow them to return upon temporary travel abroad; persons with green cards who may stay abroad for longer than 6 months would want to file for a re-entry permit to avoid issues at the border.
Almost all travel documents such as advance parole, re-entry permit, and refugee/asylee travel documents are filed for using form I 131 found at www.usics.gov. It is the same form that is used by different applicants for different purposes. The filing fee for the form will depend on the purpose or the type of travel authorization one is requesting. For example, today, for an advance parole one will have to pay $575, for a refugee travel document most applicants will pay $220, and for a re-entry permit: $660.
Typically, form I 131 is filed with USCIS by mail, and processing times vary upon the type of the document requested, and vary from 3.5 months to 6-9 months. But what if your need to travel is quite urgent and you cannot wait for such a long time? Then, depending on the type of document you request and the circumstances, you may request that USCIS expedite the issuance of travel documents.
There are two ways one can go about it. If your application with USCIS had been filed already, and the travel needs from less urgent turned into very urgent, you can submit and expedite the request with USCIS asking to process the already filed application. Your request will have to comply with the expedited guidelines that can be found here: https://www.uscis.gov/forms/filing-guidance/how-to-make-an-expedite-request.
You will have to demonstrate that failure to process the document fast will result in:
· Severe financial loss to a company or person, provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the petitioner’s or applicant’s failure to:
o Timely file the benefit request, or
o Timely respond to any requests for additional evidence;
- Emergencies and urgent humanitarian reasons;
- Nonprofit organization (as designated by the Internal Revenue Service) whose request is in furtherance of the cultural or social interests of the United States;
- U.S. government interests (such cases identified as urgent by federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Labor, National Labor Relations Board, Equal Opportunity Commission, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or other public safety or national security interests); or
- Clear USCIS error.
If USCIS agrees with you, your document will be issued pretty quickly, but still, it will take about 30 days to get processed!
But, there is a different way as well. What if the need to travel appeared within the past 48 hours due to some sort of emergency? Then (and it is true, especially for advance paroles), you may request that your travel document be issued to you in person at a local USCIS field office. For that, you first have to request an appointment at a local USCIS field office either by calling USCIS customer service number or using the online scheduling tool: https://my.uscis.gov/en/appointment/v2. If your request for the appointment is confirmed, you will have to appear at the local USCIS office with your filing fee, filled out form I 131, proof of emergency, a copy of your ID, passport, and 2 passport-style photos, as well as proof of your eligibility to seek advance parole (a copy of receipt for pending I 485 form, affirmative asylum, or having a DACA or TPS status for example). A local USCIS officer will decide if your request warrants merit, and if agrees with you, you will receive advance parole on that very day.