Ask Sophie: How long can I travel while waiting for my green card?


Here is another version “Ask Sophie” advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at tech companies.

“Your questions are critical to spreading the knowledge that allows people around the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” said Silicon Valley immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn. Whether you’re in People Ops, a founder, or looking for a job in Silicon Valley, I’d love to answer your questions in the next column.

TechCrunch+ members receive access to weekly “Ask Sophie” columns; Use ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription at 50% off.

Dear Sophie,

I came to America from Tunisia to get my master’s degree and Ph.D. I recently finished my PhD, and am working on OPT at a biotech company.

I have been trying to get publications and valuable awards to qualify for an EB-1A green card and I have to travel internationally frequently for business.

Once I apply, will I be locked up in the US? If so, for how long?

– From Tunisia

dear little one,

Thank you for reaching out! Let me first provide an overview of the green card process and suggest an alternative to the EB-1A green card that may give you a faster and less risky future.

Instead of waiting to add to your list of accomplishments to qualify for an EB-1A extraordinary skill green card, consider applying right now For EB-2 NIW Green Card. Listen to my conversation with my colleague Nadia Zadi on EB-2 NIW and what it takes to make a strong case.

A two-step process

Applying for an EB-1A Special Skilled Green Card – or an EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card – is typically a two-step process that involves registering with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for individuals with nonimmigrant status working in the United States. (such as F-1 OPT or H-1B) holding:

  • Form I-140 is a green card petition in which you and your immigration attorney explain why you qualify for the type of green card you are applying for.
  • Form I-485 is also called Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

Sometimes, if your “advance date” is current, you can submit these two steps at once – more below. When we file Form I-485, we file Form I-765, Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and Form I-131, Travel Document Application for “advance” entry into the United States. Sorry” after traveling abroad.

Immigration attorney Sophie Alcorn with the TechCrunch logo in the background.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (Opens in a new window)

If you don’t receive an advance waiver, you can accidentally abandon your I-485 and even be denied a retry unless you travel internationally and have a different valid status like H-1B or L-1 – as well, more on that below. When you are approved for the I-765 and I-131, you will receive a “combo card” that allows you to work and travel until your physical green card is issued after the I-140 is approved.

Processing times

You can file your EB-1A I-140 through premium processing, which means you will receive a decision or request for evidence from USCIS within 15 days. Without premium processing, USCIS is taking almost 2 years to process EB-1A I-140s, according to a recent USCIS Case Processing Times page. (USCIS recently expanded premium processing to EB-2 NIW I-140s as well, but the premium processing time is 45 days longer. Without premium processing, USCIS can take up to 8 months to process EB-2 NIW I-140s.)


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