How to Work or Travel While Green Card Application Is Pending

Individuals who want to work and reside permanently in the U.S. may file Form I-485 to apply for a green card. The green card allows you to live and work indefinitely in the U.S. It’s the first step toward acquiring U.S. citizenship, and there are a lot of rules you must follow.

The application process can take several months to even years to complete. A question frequently asked is if you are able to work or travel while an application for permanent residency is in process. 

Here’s what you need to know.

permanent resident card behind uscis letterhead
A permanent resident card behind a USCIS letterhead. You must wait for approval to work or travel in the U.S. while your green card application is pending. Image link:

Working While Awaiting Green Card Approval

If you want to work in the U.S. while your application for permanent status is pending, you may need to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization Document, to obtain a work permit. However, in order to do so, you need to have a visa that allows you to work in the U.S.

If you do not have a visa that allows work, your potential employer may be able to request a visa change on your behalf. If your current visa does not allow you to work and doesn’t meet the requirements for Form I-765, this is the route you’ll need to take. This page from the USCIS has more information on working in the United States as an immigrant.

Traveling Outside the U.S. While Awaiting Green Card Approval

Non-immigrants in America who have filed Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, have to remain in the country until the USCIS approves their application for a green card.

It’s important to maintain legal status while in the United States. Maintaining legal status becomes even more important when waiting to receive a green card from the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).

In order to travel outside of the U.S. while awaiting approval, according to U.S. immigration law, you need to apply for advance permission to leave the country. This is known as “Advance Parole” in immigration terminology. You can gain advance parole from USCIS by filing Form I-131, Application for Travel Document.

As the term “parole” implies, there will be a lot of rules and restrictions you must follow while you travel. If you break them, you will put your future green card at risk! We encourage you to get a clear understanding of these rules before you leave the country on advance parole.

What if I Leave the Country Without Approval?

It is not against the law for you to leave while you have a green card case in progress, but it will be considered abandoned. This means you’ll need to start the process all over again, including paying any fees. You may also be asked why you abandoned your application.

What if I Want to Move While Awaiting Approval?

A green card applicant must inform the central USCIS office if they want to move while in the U.S. and awaiting a pending case. You can inform USCIS about a change of address by filing Form AR-11. It is important to inform the USCIS of a change of address of all non-U.S. citizens who are aged 14 or over and who remain in the U.S. for more than 30 days.

Filing this form helps you and the USCIS. Without an accurate address, the government cannot send you important information about your case. You could even get your green card and miss it because the address they have was wrong!

This form is easy to fill out online. Here is the USCIS site to fill out an AR-11. Please make sure your information is accurate and you follow all instructions. You have 10 days after you move to inform USCIS of your move. A USPS change of address form does not count!

Once You Have Your Green Card

Once you have a green card, your freedom to work and travel is greatly increased. However, if you commit crimes outside of the U.S., or if you’re absent from the U.S. for over a  year, your green card could be revoked, and you could even be barred from re-entering the U.S.

Be sure to carry an unexpired passport with your green card and any necessary re-entry permit when you re-enter the country to avoid any complications about coming back.

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