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For cases filed entirely in the US, the foreign national will almost always be able to work legally within several months of filing (this of course requires that applications for an Employment Authorization Document and a travel document called a Parole be filed for along with the permanent residence application).
For a marriage case where the spouse is a U.S. citizen, the Petition for Alien Relative and the Application to Adjust Status to Permanent Residence may be filed together. The filing of the Application to Adjust Status permits the filing of the Application for Employment Authorization Document to permit employment and the Application for Travel Document to permit travel. Both are approved several months after filing and so work and travel would be permitted at that point.
In fact, if the foreign national was on a non-immigrant visa which permits employment, he or she could continue to work even before receiving these documents.
Travel, however, is a more difficult question. With the exception of people on a valid H-1B or L-1 visa as discussed bvelow, the act of traveling before an advance parole has been uissued serves to abandon the Adjustment of Status filing completed.
For individuals who have been maintaining valid status before filing the Application to Adjust Status is filed, this is the end of the analysis – the foreign national spouse can both work and travel once these documents are received.
If the foreign national is on a valid L-1 or H-1B non-immigrant visa and has been maintaining status, he or she could even travel before receiving the Advance Parole travel document.
If the person had not been maintaining valid legal status, an examination of the foreign national’s circumstances must first be made before leaving is advisable.