U.S. Travel Documents Application: Traveling to and from the USA
Updated on 12/24/2021
Even if you are known as a light packer, there are certain items that you should not exclude from your suitcase when you go on a trip to the United States or abroad. Before traveling to or from the USA, you may need to attend to the task of applying for travel documents if you are not a U.S. citizen yet.
An application for travel documents will be different if you are trying to enter the U.S. than if you are wanting to exit the United States with an intent to return. The first category of travel documents are those that show that you have permission to cross the U.S. borders and enter the country. The second type of travel document allows you to reenter the United States if you need to travel abroad.
1. Applying for Travel Documents to Enter the United States
The United States of America is a wonderful place to visit to see a lot of amazing landmarks, monuments, and national parks. However, sightseeing excursions are limited to a finite amount of time. Moreover, even if a foreign national comes to the USA and loves the country, they should not remain to live and work here after temporary visiting.
To travel to the United States, foreign nationals need to apply for the proper documents. Their passport, of course, will be issued by their country of origin after they complete the application from their respective country. Foreign nationals will also require a visa to enter the United States.
For shorter trips to the USA, some tourists can get a visa stamp in their foreign passport from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at an American border or airport, rather than obtaining a separate visa in advance. To learn which type of travel document they need, foreign nationals can use the Visa Wizard, which is available on the U.S. Department of State website.
Visa Waiver Program
Tourists from some foreign countries can visit the United States for up to 90 days without applying for a travel visa. This ability is possible for those whose country of origin benefits from the Visa Waiver Program. However, they must still obtain an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval in advance.
Visitor (B) Visa Application
If a tourist is not interested in applying for an ESTA approval, or if their country of origin does not qualify them for the Visa Waiver Program, there is another travel document application available to them. This one is called the Visitor, or B, visa.
When applying for this type of travel document, a foreign national will need to have a valid purpose for visiting the United States. Common reasons for U.S. travel include the following:
- Business consultation or training
- Academic or professional conference
- Contract negotiations and signing
- Visit with relatives
- Medical treatment
- Participation in unpaid, amateur sports or performance
Essentially, visitor visa applications can be for the purposes of business or pleasure. However, B visa travel documents may not be used for study for credit, employment, or permanent residence in the United States.
2. Travel Documents to Carry as You Explore America
Although America has 50 states, the travel documents that tourists need are essentially the same from coast to coast. Travelers will not need to apply for separate travel documents for each state in the USA that they plan to visit.
No matter what country a foreign national is coming from, to travel to the United States, they will need photo identification and a document that shows that they entered America legally. As such, foreign nationals should be prepared to carry their passport and/or visa with them as they travel around the United States.
Whether they are sightseeing or merely traveling on the U.S. roads, foreign nationals should keep their passport and visa with them in their pocket, backpack, or purse. That way they have photo identification that shows that they are the person listed on their passport and visa, and the stamps in their passport prove that they entered the United States lawfully.
3. Application for Advance Parole When You Leave the USA Temporarily
If your I-485 adjustment of status application (green card application) is pending with USCIS, and you plan to leave the USA temporally, you should obtain a travel document called advance parole before you exit America.
To apply for advance parole, foreign nationals with a pending I-485 adjustment of status application should complete Form I-131, Application for Travel Document. This type of travel document will allow a foreign national to travel outside the United States and then be allowed to reenter the country upon return.
What happens if you leave the U.S. without an advance parole travel document?
Those who do not obtain an advance parole card before leaving could be turned away by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer when they try to reenter the United States after a trip abroad.
Another danger of exiting the United States without an advance parole while a green card application is still pending is that the U.S. government may consider the application for lawful permanent residency abandoned. Foreign nationals with H or L visa status are exempt from this rule.
Is it safe to travel abroad and then return to the U.S. with an advance parole?
The answer depends on how many days you have accrued unlawful presence in the U.S. before you filed an I-485 adjustment of status application. If you have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence, you should not travel abroad even you have a valid advance parole, otherwise your adjustment of status will be jeopardized significantly.
Learn more about travel with an advance parole in our article Advance Parole Travel While I-485 is Pending with USCIS.
How long does an advance parole travel document last?
An advance parole is valid for two years after it is issued. It is possible to file an application for renewal of the advance parole. You can do so 180 days before the expiration of the advance parole travel document, so that you will not be without a card when you need to go abroad.
4. Application for Travel Documents If You Are a Green Card Holder
Generally, a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) is free to travel to and from the USA with a valid passport and green card. No additional travel document is needed for them. However, a green card holder who plans to stay outside the United States for more than 6 months consecutively is recommended to apply for travel documents widely known as reentry permit.
A reentry permit establishes that green card holder did not intend to abandon their permanent resident status in the United States, and it allows them to apply for admission to the United States after traveling abroad for up to 2 years without having to obtain a returning resident visa. Reentry permits are normally valid for 2 years from the date of issuance.
5. Application for Travel Documents If You Are a Refugee or Asylee in the USA
If you are a refugee or asylee in the USA, you might need a refugee travel document to re-enter the United States after travel abroad temporarily. To apply for a refugee travel document, an I-131 form needs to be filed with USCIS. Click here to learn more about an application for refugee travel document.
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