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


Dec 13, 2017


At the same time that most people apply for a family-sponsored green card from within the United States, they will also apply for a work permit (Form I-765) and travel permit (Form I-131). In recent years, it has taken U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about three 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 to five months (135–150 days) to process and in some cases up to seven months (210 days)
  • Travel permit applications are taking up to five months (150 days) to process.

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

It’s still unclear what is causing these delays and whether 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)
Type of Permit FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017 (est.)
Work Permit (Form I-765) 50 58 68 90
Travel Permit (Form I-131) 62 72 83 99

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 and Travel Permit Application Volumes
Work Permit (I-767) FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017 4-Year Increase
Total Forms Received for the Year 1,370,404 2,030,896 2,111,906 2,326,431 70%
Forms Pending at Year End 374,589 328,848 533,130 649,428 73%
Travel Permit (I-131) FY 2014 FY 2015 FY 2016 FY 2017 4-Year Increase
Total Forms Received for the Year 287,230 332,118 359,715 416,417 45%
Forms Pending at Year End 58,170 73,962 71,416 110,129 89%

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, such as the H-1B and L-1, have 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.

With Boundless, you get an independent immigration attorney to review all of your green card application materials, including the travel and work permit applications. Get started now, or learn more about how we can help.


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 should you do anything differently now.

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, such as an H-1B).
  • USCIS will consider your green card application “abandoned” if you leave the United States before your travel permit is approved. It is best to postpone any international travel plans 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 reapply — 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 (“nonimmigrant”) 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.

If you do not have another status that allows you to work in the United States, however, 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 Situation” (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 it’s best to 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. Please visit the official USCIS Emergency Travel website for more details.


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