On November 16, 2018, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director L. Francis Cissna suggested that USCIS will discontinue its policy of denying certain pending I-131, Application for Travel Document applications when an applicant travels internationally. Cissna’s comments came during the Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman’s Annual Conference. He gave no indication about when the change was likely to be implemented, but he did suggest that the new policy is forthcoming.
The instructions for Form I-131 currently advise applicants that their applications for advance parole documents will be considered abandoned if the applicant departs the United States before his or her travel document is issued. Prior USCIS policy exempted adjustment of status applicants who continued to maintain valid H or L nonimmigrant status from this advance parole abandonment dilemma. However, in the last two years, the change to this exemption produced a spike in the number of I-131 denials, inevitably binding H and L visa professionals, who often must travel for business, to a three- to six-month stay in the United States to obtain the travel document. There are only a few remedies to rely on when an application is denied on the basis of abandonment, including using a previously issued, unexpired advance parole document or nonimmigrant visa, or applying for a new visa at a U.S. consulate, to reenter the United States. A return to the prior USCIS exemption policy would bring practical relief to H and L visa travelers and their employers.
Ogletree Deakins’ Immigration Practice Group will continue to monitor developments with respect to changes to this policy and will post updates on the Immigration blog as additional information becomes available.