April 1, 2013
This article discusses some common examples of when a person must apply for and obtain permission to return to the U.S. before leaving.
Advance Parole for Asylees
If your application for asylum is pending, but you had an emergency happen in your home country or you have a legitimate reason to visit another country you may be able to travel outside of the United States. However, in order to return to the U.S. you must apply to USCIS (Form I-131) to receive an Advance Parole. In emergency situations local immigration services may be able to accommodate your expedite request. If you leave the United States without first obtaining advance parole, the immigration service will consider your asylum application abandoned. It is not recommended that you travel while your asylum application is pending, especially to your home country, which you are claiming to have a fear of return to, unless it is an absolute emergency such as death of an immediate relative. Advance parole does not guarantee that you will be allowed to reenter the United States. When you return to the U.S. an immigration officer from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will inspect you to determine whether you are admissible and whether you will be allowed to reenter the United States.
Refugee Travel Document
If you have entered the United States on a refugee status or have been granted an asylum status in the U.S., and have an emergency situation in your home country or need to travel abroad, you must apply for and receive a Refugee Travel Document (Form I-131) to return to the U.S. If you do not obtain a refugee travel document in advance of departure, you may be unable to re-enter the U.S., or you may be placed in removal proceedings. Derivative asylees and refugees must also obtain a refugee travel document before leaving the United States.
Refugee travel document is also available to those who became a lawful permanent resident (obtained a green card) based on an approved refugee or asylum status. This may be an option for those who do not have or are not able to obtain a valid passport from their country of citizenship, required for international travel. It is strongly recommended for refugees and asylees not to travel to their home country, until they become U.S. citizens. Even as a lawful permanent resident you face a risk of having your refugee or asylum status revoked, and being denied admission into the U.S.
Permanent and conditional residents are free to travel outside the United States, and temporary or brief travel usually does not affect your permanent resident status. However, you can lose your LPR status or be barred from re-entry into the U.S. if you are gone from the U.S. too long. If you plan to be gone from the U.S. for more than six months, you should apply to USCIS for a Re-entry Permit (Form I-131) before departure. This permit will protect your right to return during two years that it is valid for.
Re-entry permit is not renewable but if you plan to remain outside of the U.S. for more than two years, you may return to the U.S. prior to the permit’s expiration and apply for a new one, as you must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for one. Otherwise, if you remain outside of the United States for more than 2 years, past expiration of the re-entry permit, you would need to apply for a special immigrant “returning resident” visa (SB-1) at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Although this is an option that may be available to some, it may be difficult to obtain, as you must have very compelling reasons to explain your long-term absence from the U.S. in order to establish eligibility for an immigrant visa. You may be faced with a high risk of not being admitted back into the U.S. after a long absence.
Additionally, absences from the United States of six months or more may disrupt the continuous residency and physical presence required for naturalization. If your absence is one year or longer and you wish to preserve your continuous residence in the United States for naturalization purposes, you may file an Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes (Form N-470).
If you are planning a trip outside of the U.S. for more than six months, or planning to return to the country from which you claimed a fear of persecution, you should consult with an immigration attorney before your departure from the United States.
Note: this article does not constitute legal advice for any individual cases.