March 21, 2022

USCIS Decouples EAD Card And Advance Parole Travel Documents To Speed EAD Card Processing For Adjustment Applicants

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Key Takeaways

  • It is critical before traveling outside of the U.S. that applicants for AOS check with qualified legal counsel on whether they can travel outside of the U.S. and return to the U.S. to resume their pending AOS applications.

Without a formal news release, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") started prioritizing pending requests for employment authorization (Form I-765) by adjustment of status ("AOS") applicants (often referred to as "green card applicants"). Later, the USCIS posted an alert  that to "improve efficiency and reduce Form I-765 processing times" for pending AOS applicants, effective February 1, 2022 when possible, USCIS "may decouple" the adjudication of a Form I-765 from the accompanying Form I-131 (advance parole request) to allow travel outside of the U.S. post the filing of the adjustment application (Form I-485) without abandonment of the adjustment process.

So, USCIS may now issue separate Employment Authorization Documents ("EAD") cards and Advance Parole Document ("APD") travel documents to AOS applicants versus the prior combination card. The USCIS is making the change in an effort to decrease the EAD card processing time and reduce AOS applicants and their employers from experiencing severe gaps in employment authorization. Over the past two years, many AOS applicants have had to stop working after their underlying nonimmigrant visa employment authorization expired. This resulted in their inability to support themselves and their families, and caused panic on the part of employers who could not utilize key employees until the USCIS issued an EAD card.    As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, processing times for EAD card applications are currently taking 9 to 21.5 months to complete for AOS applicants depending on the applicable USCIS Service Center.

By way of background information, AOS applicants are provided certain benefits while their applications for AOS are pending.   Such benefits include EAD cards and APD travel documents, which provide employment authorization and the ability to travel outside of the U.S. and then return to the U.S. while their AOS applications are pending without abandoning the AOS applications. The USCIS previously issued a combination or "combo" card, which included both EAD and APD benefits. The combination card was notated with the phrase, "Serves As I-512 Advance Parole," to indicate it can be used for traveling purposes and employment. AOS applicants will now typically receive two separate documents: the EAD card and the APD travel document. Please refer to the examples below:

Combination EAD/APD Document

Please note that USCIS has indicated that Form I-765 can be completed to request that a combo card still be issued by using the "(c)(9)(P)" code. Still, the allure of a combo card is not as strong, when it may place the applicant in the slow lane for employment authorization adjudication.

Going forward, it is essential that applicants for AOS review any documents they receive from the USCIS as the APD travel language noted above may no longer be included on their EAD card. Consequently, some applicants for AOS will not be able to return to the U.S. after traveling abroad, unless an APD travel document has been issued and is valid. Some AOS applicants may be eligible to travel without abandoning a pending adjustment application in certain instances (e.g., if they have a valid H or L visa and have maintained status). It is critical before traveling outside of the U.S. that applicants for AOS check with qualified legal counsel on whether they can travel outside of the U.S. and return to the U.S. to resume their pending AOS applications.

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