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Leaving the U.S. Before You Get Your Green Card

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Can I travel before my Green Card arrives?

Hi, I'm Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out our offices in St. Louis, Missouri, and San Diego, California. Today's question just came to me from Laura Clark, my trusty sidekick. She asked me a question that she gets a lot from people who receive an immigrant visa to come to the United States, and they then pay their ELIS fee, which is the one fee that you have to pay in order to make sure that you get that Green Card. So after the embassy has approved your visa and placed it in your passport, you need to go online and pay the ELIS fee. And that's the fee. It's a couple hundred bucks that actually makes USCIS send you the Green Card after your arrival.

Now, a lot of times that Green Card doesn't come right away and there are errors in it. There are issues that come up with those Green Cards, but if you don't pay that ELIS fee, they're not coming at all. So in order to get your Green Card, you need to make sure your ELIS fee has been paid. And then once you arrive in the United States, you will have to wait probably six, eight weeks for that Green Card to arrive, and the purpose of this video is to talk about whether or not it's safe for you to leave before you get that Green Card. And I think it's not safe to leave until you get your Green Card. Now, there could be exceptions if there was a mistake made in your Green Card, or if the Green Card just doesn't arrive and you have to go home for an emergency, I can understand that, but I'd want to explore that on a case-by-case basis, so if I'm going to announce a rule, I'm going to say that you shouldn't leave until you get the actual physical Green Card to the United States.

And there's really two reasons for that. One is, you never know, coming through customs, when someone's going to give you a hard time. So just because you came through the first time, doesn't mean that you'll be able to come through a second or third time. So we really don't like our clients to travel on that I-551 stamp that's actually in the passport. We strongly advise people to wait until they actually get their Green Card.

The other issue that we've seen that's come up in some cases is if you come to the United States and enter the United States on your immigrant visa, and then leave the United States, someone then would have to send you your Green Card for you to be able to re-enter. And so we've seen problems where people have mismailed, or sent that to the wrong address, or the Green Card doesn't ever get to the immigrant back overseas. So that's another problem.

And then the final problem is that if you come and enter on your I-551 stamp, don't wait for your Green Card and then leave and spend a lot of time outside of the United States, we've seen people go past those six months and then they get in trouble trying to re-enter the United States, and we've also seen people apply for citizenship and because they received their immigrant visa, came to the United States, and then immediately left, and then went back home for say six months, or five and a half months, we've seen that mess with their eligibility dates to apply either to remove the conditions or to get citizenship. And we've seen people who have filed for citizenship, and we've seen USCIS has come back and say, "Well, you came on that immigrant visa, but you didn't really reside here until five or six months later, when you really came back on your Green Card and stayed. And therefore you filed your naturalization case too early." I hope that makes sense, but basically they sort of hold it in their back pocket and they use it to deny your citizenship case further on down the line.

So leaving the United States before you get your Green Card is generally a bad idea, and we advise against it. Unless, like I said, there's an emergency. But even if there's an emergency, you probably want to talk to an immigration lawyer before you make that decision to go overseas.

Hopefully you found this helpful. If you did, give us a call 314-961-8200. You can email us at [email protected]. We have our Facebook group, we'd love to have you in there. It's called Immigrant Home, and we have about 4,000 members now, that's where we share all of our best stuff. Of course we have our YouTube channel that you can subscribe to so that whenever I make a new video, you get updated about it. And then finally, on most Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 1:00 central time, usually that's the time that we do it, I'll be in Immigrant Home, our Facebook group, I'll be in our YouTube studio answering your questions for a full hour, for free. So we'd love to have you there, so if you have any questions, otherwise just shoot us an email. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.

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