Understanding Legalization: Travel


This is the third in a series of articles taking a deeper look at the legalization provisions of the immigration reform bill currently being debated in the Senate. Before you read this, you should read my article on what happens to the detained and deported.

One of the most frequently asked questions by undocumented immigrants is whether or not they will be able to travel if the Senate immigration reform bill is passed.

Many of them have not seen their families in years and want to visit an aging parent or spend time with the children they had to leave behind.

Some other humanitarian programs, like Temporary Protected Status (TPS), only allow for travel if special permission is granted by the Department of Homeland Security. This special permission, called “advanced parole,” is expensive to apply for and is granted on a case-by-case basis. It allows for very limited travel options.

Fortunately, the Senate bill creates a much freer travel system for people granted Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status. Once the RPI applies for status and receives his or her RPI card, the Provisional Immigrant can travel without seeking further permission. There are certain limitations on travel that should be considered, however.

Trips of more than 180 days could lead to the loss of RPI status. Also, if a Provisional Immigrant is out of the country for a total of more than 180 days in a calendar year during multiple trips, he or she may lose the status. There is a forgiveness provision when the Provisional Immigrant can show extenuating circumstances, but my advice would be to keep visits to 170 days or less and to make sure that the Provisional Immigrant keeps track of how many days they spends out of the country each year to stay on the safe side.

I would also note that to apply for permanent residence at the end of the ten-year long Provisional Immigrant period, the RPI will have to show a substantial work history and earnings here in the United States. This will be hard to do if someone spends 50 months out of the country during that time.

While the travel provision in the Senate bill is not perfect, it will meet most RPIs’ need to travel to see family and friends, take care of business affairs in other countries, and vacation abroad.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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