Insider Alert: Longer Wait Times for Work Permits and Travel Permits

Dec 13, 2017

Most people applying for a family-sponsored green card from within the United States will apply for a work permit (Form I-765) and travel permit (Form I-131) at the same time. In recent years, it has taken U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about 3 months (90 days) to process these applications, for both the work permit and travel permit, allowing the applicant to work in the United States and to travel internationally during the subsequent months of waiting for the final green card approval.

But these processing times appear to be on the rise. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) recently alerted its members that according to “multiple reports”:

  • Work permit applications are taking around 4.5–5 months (135–150 days) to process, or in some cases up to 7 months (210 days)
  • Travel permit applications are taking up to 5 months (150 days) to process.

For most applicants, the longer of the two processing times will become the bottleneck for both, since USCIS includes both the work authorization and travel authorization in a single physical card (technically called an “Employment Authorization Document,” with “Advance Parole” for international travel).

It’s still unclear what is causing these delays, and whether or not they represent a “new normal.” Based on processing time data from USCIS, waits have been steadily increasing since at least Fiscal Year (FY) 2014:

Average Processing Time for Work and Travel Permits Across All USCIS Offices (in days)

Average Processing Time for Work and Travel Permits Across All USCIS Offices (in days)

USCIS application data, analyzed by Boundless, indicates a significant increase in forms received (and forms stuck in a backlog) over the same period:

USCIS Work Permit Application Volume

USCIS Work Permit Application Volume

USCIS Travel Permit Application Volume

Travel Permits Volume

These wait times are important because without a work permit, a green card applicant can’t be lawfully employed in the United States—and without a travel permit, they can’t travel abroad either. Both of these constraints can make the long wait for a green card more difficult.

It’s important to note that even individuals with “dual intent” visas like the H-1B and L-1 have recently been publicly advised by immigration attorneys not to travel internationally while their travel permit application is pending as part of a green card application package. Apparently USCIS now considers such travel an “abandonment” of the pending travel permit application.

To stay up to date on wait times and other changes in the U.S. immigration system, follow Boundless on Twitter or Facebook.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I do anything differently now?

Only if you were planning to work in the United States or travel internationally after the typical 90-day waiting period. Remember:

  • It’s important that you don’t do any kind of paid work until your work permit has arrived (unless you have some other immigration status that allows you to work, like an H-1B).
  • USCIS will consider your green card application “abandoned” if you travel outside the United States before your travel permit is approved. Any international travel plans will need to be placed on hold while USCIS is processing your travel permit application.

What happens if I have not received my travel permit and I decide to travel internationally anyway?

Again, if your travel permit has not been approved and you make an international trip, your green card application will be considered “abandoned” as soon as you leave the United States. USCIS would then deny your green card application and send you written notice of their decision.

You would then need to re-apply—that means filing your entire application again from scratch.

What happens if my work permit has not been approved and I need to work?

If your current temporary (“non-immigrant”) visa status is based on your employment (for example, an H-1B or L-1 visa), and that visa is still valid, you can continue to work. However, if you do not have another status that allows you to work in the United States, any paid work will be considered “unauthorized employment.” USCIS requires you to reveal any unauthorized employment on a green card application, and in response to any questions by a USCIS officer at your green card interview.

Can I get a temporary work permit while I’m waiting for my original work permit application to be approved?

For marriage green card applicants, USCIS procedures do not provide for an interim or temporary work permit while the original work permit application is pending.

Is there anything I can do to speed this up?

Unfortunately, there is no way to speed up the processing of work permits.

USCIS will consider requests for “expedited processing” of travel permits, on a case-by-case basis, but generally only if the request is being made for one of the following reasons:

  • Severe financial loss to a company or person
  • Emergency situation
  • Humanitarian reasons
  • Non-profit organization whose request is in furtherance of the cultural and social interests of the United States ;
  • Department of Defense or “National Interest S ituation” (this particular kind of expedite request must come from an official U.S. government entity, stating that delay will be detrimental to the government)
  • USCIS error
  • Compelling interest of USCIS

It’s important to understand that USCIS only rarely agrees to expedite a travel permit, so you should plan accordingly.

These requests can be made in writing to the USCIS office where your travel permit application is pending, or in-person at your local USCIS office. Here’s the official USCIS Emergency Travel website for more details.

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