Potential Immigration Consequences of Holiday Travel

By: Attorney Maridex E. Abraham

The holiday season is upon us and it is a time of great comfort for many. Family and friends gather to share their joy with one another by exchanging gifts, eating delicious food or simply being in the presence of one another. Some are lucky enough to live close to family and can celebrate the holidays together. However, there are many of us who live far away from our loved ones and must make travel arrangements to spend the holidays with our parents, children or significant others. But what happens if you have a visa application that is still in process and you want to visit your loved one in the United States? Or maybe you are living in the United States and need to leave the country. Is this even possible?

You may be asking yourself, “Can I travel while my application is pending?” “Will traveling to the U.S. on a tourist visa affect my immigration visa (green card) application?” Will the officers at the airport put me in custody and ask me to go back to my home country?” These are all questions you should be asking if you are considering travel before your immigration case is decided. Because it is correct that a pending case could affect your travel plans, and also because your pending case could be negatively affected by your potential travel.

Think about the reason you want to travel this time of year. Perhaps you have a parent who is deathly ill, and this is the likely the last holiday season you will be able to spend with your loved one. Or perhaps you and your fiancée are hoping to have a winter wedding. There are several good reasons to want to travel this time of year, but it is important that you understand immigration rules and procedures to avoid creating problems in your case. There are many things to consider if you are thinking about traveling to/from the United States over the holidays, and an immigration lawyer can evaluate whether it is safe to travel based on your circumstances and correctly advise you of potential consequences.

Once you start the immigration process, you establish your “intent” to live in the United States permanently. In other words, as soon as you submit an application for legal permanent residency in the U.S., immigration agencies will be aware that you plan to establish a life in the U.S. If you plan to travel to the U.S. as a visitor or leave the U.S. and return while your application is pending, the officers at the port of entry may give you a hard time even if you have visited the U.S. before. This is because you have an application pending, which shows that your main goal is to live in the U.S. permanently. The officer might be skeptical that you only plan to visit the U.S. temporarily, even if the reason for your travels is to spend the holidays with your family. The officer might refuse your entry, which may create complications in your case moving forward.

Sometimes, there are situations that are so dire that you have to travel even if your immigration application is not yet approved. If you absolutely must travel while your case is pending, a qualified immigration attorney can guide you on the steps you can take to lessen the potential risks. A lawyer will know the types of applications you must file if you need to obtain permission to travel outside the U.S., as well as the documents you can carry with you to show that you don’t intend to stay longer that permitted. More importantly, a lawyer can advise you of your rights in case you run into problems with the officer at the port of entry.

There are times when the best plan for intending immigrants is to delay traveling until your case is complete. It is difficult for families to be separated during the immigration process, especially around the holidays, but failing to comply with immigration law could potentially result in an even longer wait time. However, not everybody will be forced to wait. Travel may be acceptable in your case!  Consult an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney today for help navigating the complicated rules and procedures so that you never have to spend another holiday apart from your loved ones.