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Emergency Travel

Overview

In case of an emergency, and before leaving the United States, you should know what documents will be required to reenter the United States as well as understand whether or not your departure will negatively impact your application(s) for immigration benefits.

As a general rule, any person who is not a U.S. citizen or non-citizen U.S. national is subject to immigration review each time the person seeks admission to the United States from any place outside the United States.  Even if you have already been admitted as a permanent resident (you have a green card) you are subject to review by an immigration official.  If, during such review, you are determined to be inadmissible (even though you may have been admissible previously), you may be denied admission.

If you are seeking admission or parole at a port of entry you generally must have in your possession a valid and unexpired travel document (e.g. a green card, U.S. visa, an advance parole document) to present to the officer at the port of entry. 

Depending on your immigration status or if you have an application for an immigration benefit pending, different types of travel documents may be required if you (including permanent residents) wish to return to the United States lawfully after travel abroad.  These documents should be applied for, in certain cases, prior to your departure from the United States.  Please see the "Travel Documents"  link to the left for more information on the types of travel documents.

Caution

Travel outside of the United States may have severe consequences if you are in the process of adjusting your status (applying for a green card). In general, if you are seeking immigrant status (a green card) and depart the United States without the appropriate documentation (i.e. advance parole) you may be inadmissible to the United States upon return, or even if admitted, you may be found to have abandoned your application.

If you have been admitted as a nonimmigrant and have applied to extend the period of authorized nonimmigrant stay, or have applied to change to a different nonimmigrant status, you will automatically abandon the application if you leave the United States before USCIS makes a decision on the advance parole application.  Receipt of an advance parole document does NOT prevent abandonment of the change of status or extension of stay application.  Upon returning to the United States, you are likely to be denied admission if your current status has expired.

For the reasons stated above, it is important that you obtain the proper documentation before leaving the United States.  Also, you should keep in mind that admission into the United States is not guaranteed even if the appropriate documents are obtained.  In all cases, you are still subject to immigration inspection or examination at a port of entry to determine whether you are admissible into the country and whether you are eligible for the immigration status sought.

Asylum applicants, asylees, refugees, and lawful permanent residents who obtained such status based on their asylum or refugee status are also subject to special rules with regard to traveling outside the United States.  Additional information regarding traveling outside the United States as well as the consequences that could result if an asylum applicant, an asylee, a refugee, or a lawful permanent resident who obtained such status based on his or her asylum or refugee status returns to his or her country of claimed persecution may be found in the Fact Sheet entitled "Traveling Outside the United States as an Asylum Applicant, an Asylee, or a Lawful Permanent Resident Who Obtained Such Status Based on Asylum Status"  (see link  to the right). 

Unlawful Presence

If you depart the United States after accruing certain periods of unlawful presence in the United States (time spent in the United States illegally) you may be barred from admission for either three years or ten years, depending on the amount of unlawful presence an individual has accrued.  Any departure from the United States may trigger this ground of inadmissibility, even if you have obtained an advance parole document.

If you have accrued more than 180 days, but less than 1 year, of unlawful presence and who voluntarily depart the United States before the start of removal proceedings are inadmissible if you seek admission within 3 years of the date of their departure.  If you have accrued 1 year or more of unlawful presence and you depart the United States, whether or not removal proceedings have started, you are inadmissible if you seek admission within 10 years of the date of departure.

Criteria for Expedited Processing of an Application

USCIS will expedite an application, including an application for a travel document, Form I-131, in certain situations, which may include:

  • Severe financial loss to company or person;
  • Emergency situations;
  • Humanitarian reasons;
  • Nonprofit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States;
  • Department of Defense or National Interest Situation (Note: The request must come from an official U.S. Government entity and state that delay will be detrimental to the Government.); 
  • USCIS error; or
  • Compelling interest of USCIS.

You may submit an expedite request by contacting the National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 1-800-375-5283, or by submitting a written request and supporting documentation with your application.

Emergency Advance Parole Documents

If you are experiencing an extremely urgent situation, you may visit your local office to request an emergency advance parole document.  When visiting a local office to request emergency advance parole, you should bring the following items:

  • A completed and signed Form I-131, Application for Travel Document
  • The correct I-131 filing fee
  • Evidence to support the emergency request (e.g. medical documentation, death certificate)
  • Two passport-style photos.

How to File

To apply for an emergency travel document, you must file Form I-131, Application for a Travel Document, complete with supporting documentation, photos and applicable fees (see link to the right). See the application for specific filing instructions.

Where to File

Where to file the Form I-131 depends on the benefit sought.  See the form instruction page for details.  Your local office may accept an emergency advance parole application if you are experiencing an extremely urgent situation.  Business trips, weddings, holiday parties, and other planned events would usually not be considered an emergency situation.  If you are filing Form I-131 for an emergency travel document at your local office based on an extremely urgent situation, you are encouraged to make an Infopass appointment first. See link to the right,  "Make an Appointment (Infopass)."

When to File

You must apply for the travel document before leaving the United States.  Generally, an applicant for a travel document must also complete biometrics capture at an Application Support Center (ASC) prior to departure from the United States.  Failure to do so may cause the applicant to lose permission to reenter the country and lead to the denial of any other applications pending.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 10/16/2014